FAA and Boeing are proposing different capacity solutions but can industry make the modernisation schemes work?


The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Boeing have separately unveiled ambitious plans that aim to use satellite-based technology to relieve aviation gridlock, increase capacity and simplify air traffic management (ATM) in the US national airspace system (NAS).

But the blueprints are different in key areas, and it remains to be seen how Boeing's proposal would mesh with the FAA's Operational Evolution Plan (OEP), which integrates over 50 ongoing and planned air traffic control (ATC) modernisation projects (Flight International, 12-18 June). The Boeing bid hinges on a costly constellation of new satellites that do not feature in the FAA's current plans.

The timings for the two ATC modernisation plans also appear not to be synchronised. The FAA plans to keep pace with air traffic growth over the next 10 years, while Boeing aims to revolutionise ATM in eight years. Boeing says: "The FAA plan does not deliver capacity to accommodate future projections of air traffic growth."

Monte Belger, acting deputy FAA administrator, says the agency will work with Boeing on concepts for the 2020-30 period since the manufacturer's bid is compatible with the FAA's OEP. "We will work constructively with them to understand the operational and technical requirements needed to turn their concept into reality."

The FAA predicts that it can increase capacity by 30% over the next 10 years by implementing new ATC procedures and advanced technology and by constructing additional runways. "We are not promising solutions we don't think we can deliver," says Belger. Boeing, however, says that its concept, in conjunction with the OEP, would allow a 45% capacity increase over the next two decades.

Vital to the plans is industry co-operation. The OEP stands more chance of success than earlier plans as it assigns accountability for each element and deadlines for implementation - historically areas of weakness in the ATM modernisation process.

The FAA plan targets the four critical problems that limit NAS capacity: arrival and departure rates; en route congestion; the effects of bad weather on airport operations; and severe weather en route. Fundamental is the move from ground-based navigation aids to satellite-based ones such as the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) which, with the Local Area Augmentation System (LAAS), is designed to ensure the accuracy and integrity of global positioning system (GPS) signals. Automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast is a key enabling technology for the "free flight" ATM system, allowing flight deck crews and controllers to share data and pilots to choose efficient routes.

The OEP includes near-term (2001), mid-term (2002-04) and long-term (2005-10) goals (see table). In the near-term airspace "choke points" will be removed and Free Flight Phase 2 introduced. The initial WAAS follows in the mid-term, while long-term plans include new runways at congested airports, and replacing ageing terminal radar approach control (TRACON) with the standard terminal automation replacement system.

The FAA will spend $12 billion on the OEP, while airports will pay for 15 new runways and American Airlines estimates that an airline of its size would need to spend nearly $1 billion on equipment.

Although short on details, Boeing's plan calls for enhancing the OEP through Global Communication, Navigation and Surveillance System (GCNSS) satellites to augment GPS. John Hayhurst, president of Boeing's ATM unit, says: "Until we have a more detailed design completed, we don't have a specific cost estimate for the satellites, nor a precise number."

In the Boeing concept, the GCNSS would keep tabs on the weather and aircraft position, speed and flight path, distributing data to controllers, pilots and airline operations in real-time via a common information datalink network. Hayhurst says the concept will allow aircraft position to be predicted 40-50min ahead, and allow for simplification of sector, en route and terminal area airspace designs. He believes the FAA can be won over. "I'm optimistic that with time we will develop FAA support for our concept," he says.

Source: Flight International