US Federal Aviation Administration responds to delay crisis with a long-term management plan as Boeing proposes a space-based communications, navigation and surveillance solution

The US Federal Aviation Administration has unveiled the latest version of its ambitious 10-year Operational Evolution Plan (OEP), combining over 50 air traffic control (ATC) modernisation programmes.

The US aviation agency's air traffic management (ATM) blueprint is designed to squeeze 30% more traffic into the country's commercial aviation system, ease delays and increase safety. Boeing proposes to enhance the OEP through a constellation of Global Communication, Navigation and Surveillance System (GCNSS) satellites to support the global positioning system (GPS) satellite network.

Last year was the worst on record for airline delays in the USA, and this year could be worse. Delays in 2000 were up 19% over the previous year, to 1,234 per day. During the first nine months of 2000, one in every four flights was delayed, cancelled or diverted, affecting 119 million passengers. The delays last year cost airlines an estimated $6.5 billion, up from $5.4 billion in 1999. The FAA predicts that passenger boardings will increase from 659 million in 2000 to 1 billion in 2012, clogging airports and filling aircraft to capacity.

The FAA plan includes near-term (2001), mid-term (2002-2004) and long-term (2005-2010) goals. Aside from opening new runways over the decade, FAA administrator Jane Garvey hopes to resolve congestion points this year and reduce vertical separation in the following years. Long-term, the FAA will field the automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) avionics system.

In an unsolicited proposal to the FAA, Boeing suggests a "fundamentally new architecture" for US ATM. The company, which created an ATM business unit last year, proposes to integrate ATM tasks and deploy advanced satellites to provide communications, navigation and surveillance.

John Hayhurst, Boeing senior vice-president and president of the company's ATM unit, says the advanced ATM system could be fielded in as little as eight years, stressing it is not meant to be a substitute for the OEP. He says more work is required on defining the new system, including the satellite network, which is not an element of the FAA's ATC programme.

Monte Belger, the FAA's acting deputy administrator, is receptive to Boeing's offer since the OEP can be modified. "We will work with Boeing to see if their ideas can be turned into a real operational programme," he says.

Source: Flight International