Assessing The Future Of Air Traffic Control Engineering Essay

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The current air traffic control system is very outdated and is not running smoothly with increase traffic that airlines are demanding. The Federal Aviation Administration is implementing and developing a new system that can handle the increase in traffic and provide a better sense of safety. This system is called NextGen. It uses all new software, hardware, and infrastructure. Its main component is Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast. This uses GPS to show controllers exactly where an aircraft is. This paper discusses many more aspects of NextGen and how it will increase safety.

The Future of Air Traffic Control

When one books a flight online, one expects to make it to their destination with ease, without delays. However, with air traffic increasing every day the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has started development and implementation of a very new, technologically advance air traffic control system. This new system is called "The Next Generation Air Traffic Control System," or NextGen ("Fact Sheet," 2007). With air traffic expected to increase to one billion passengers by 2015 then double current passenger levels by 2025("Fact Sheet," 2007). NextGen is being implemented today and still being developed. The system is being implemented in phases. The radar bases system currently in use is very outdated and in need of repairs. We will discuss the current radar system at airports, how NextGen works, and how NextGen will improve traffic in the skies.

Radio Detection and Ranging (RADAR) is the primary detection system for air traffic controllers ("FAA Radar," 2006). This radar system date back to the 1930's and is in need of a 21st Century update. The radar sends one continuous signal and reading what information is returned. However, this information was limited because it did not show controllers who, what, how fast, and how high the aircraft was ("FAA Radar," 2006). Also, this information would not be update for another 6-12 seconds, waiting for the radar to sweep the sky again. Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) area radar sensors are used in approach control facilities, which usually cover an area of 50 miles from airport ("FAA Radar," 2006). There are two types of radar. The first type is primary and just depicts the aircraft on the controllers screen ("FAA Radar," 2006). It does not show any other information. The secondary radar is use to collect data from the aircrafts transponder including speed, altitude, and destination ("FAA Radar," 2006). The transponder is located inside the aircraft. Air Traffic Controllers assign a four digit code to the aircraft for identification. The controller then inputs information about the aircraft under that four digit code. This allows other controllers to know what the aircraft is going to do ("FAA Radar," 2006).

Another radar system is Air Route Surveillance Radar (ARSR). This radar system is considered long range. There are 21 centers around the country that use this type of long distance radar. The latest version can track planes from 300 miles away ("FAA Radar," 2006).

The final radar system is Airfield Surface Detection Equipment. This allows controllers to see aircraft on the airfield while taxiing. This reduces runway incursions especially in bad weather ("FAA Radar," 2006).

Next, The FAA is developing a new system for our future flight needs. NextGen's planning and implementing phase is being carried out by the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) ("Fact Sheet," 2007). JPDO is comprised of many people representing many different agencies including, Department of Transportation, Homeland Security, FAA, NASA, White House, and aviation experts from the private industry ("Fact Sheet," 2007). The technology behind NextGen is based from satellites. Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) "is a satellite based technology that broadcasts aircraft identification, position and speed with once-per-second updates ("Fact Sheet," 2007). ADS-B is very technologically advanced and is the main component of NextGen.

The best way to save on fuel and efficiency is on the ground. The biggest delays come from departure lines at larger airports. Reducing taxi times from 10 or 15 minutes to 5 to 10 over thousands of planes will save enormous amounts of fuel. How NextGen will do this? Easy, Collaborative Departure Queue Management "seeks to confine departure delays to the gate rather than allowing aircraft to push back into a taxi delay" ("Surface Operations," 2010). A system will analyze what planes are landing and which aircraft need to pushback from the gate.

From this information, the computer will analyze exactly what time the plane should pushback so it will not delay the aircraft taxiing to the gate but also minimize taxi wait time. The FAA conducted a system demonstration and average taxi times were "reduced by 15%" ("Surface Operations," 2010). Also, most taxi messages will be displayed on a screen ("Surface Operations," 2010). So the pilot can read the instructions and errors will not be made in voice communication.

Once airborne, the best way to eliminate hold time is in the cruise phase of the flight. NextGen has many systems in this section of flight to analyze and improve performance of the aircraft ("Cruise Benefits," 2010). For example, Alaska Airlines saved "217 flight miles per day and nearly 200,000 gallons of fuel per year" ("Cruise Benefits," 2010). They saved this amount of fuel by establishing parallel flight routes. Flights flying over the Atlantic Ocean can now fly routes that are adjusted for current wind and modify them from pre-flight state ("Cruise Benefits," 2010). This allows the aircraft to receive maximum fuel efficiency. The saving amounted to 1.4%, about "230 gallons" and around two tons of carbon dioxide per flight ("Cruise Benefits," 2010). In an annual report, the FAA estimated that if all transpacific flight between the busiest countries were to use this new system the airlines could save 10 million gallons of Jet-A per year ("Cruise Benefits," 2010).

Also, ADS-B allows controller and pilots whose aircraft are equipped with this technology to see other traffic in the sky, weather, and flight restrictions over certain areas on their cockpit displays ("Fact Sheet ADS-B," 2010). So not only will the controllers see traffic but so will other pilots. This allows redundancy in the system for better safety and efficiency. Also, ADS-B will allow direct routing and flight paths which will increase fuel economy and allow more traffic lanes in the sky ("Fact Sheet ADS-B," 2010). The FAA will decrease the separation space between aircraft because, with satellite, the location of aircraft is updated in real time ("Fact Sheet ADS-B," 2010). This allows controllers to see all aircraft without waiting every six to twelve seconds for radar to sweep the sky.

NextGen is being implemented through 2018 ("NextGen Benefits," 2010). There are many more technologies that are being developed for NextGen and will roll out for testing once design phase is completed. As information and software is tested and releaseed the FAA will release information on the new system highlighting the new features available to pilots. By 2018, the FAA estimates NextGen "will reduce total flight delays by about 21 percent while providing $22 billion in cumulative benefits to the traveling public, aircraft operators, and the FAA" ("NextGen Benefits," 2010)

The actual cost for NextGen is enormous. However, the cost will not compare to the money saved over the lifetime of the system. The budget over the next year for ADS-B alone is $564 million (NextGen Fact Sheet, 2007). All data links are budgeted for $126 million (NextGen Fact Sheet, 2007). The National Weather System for NextGen, which will create a seamless image of weather on the NextGen display, is estimated to cost $102 million (NextGen Fact Sheet, 2007). All test, analysis, and reprogramming for the system is estimated at $170 million. The FAA states if we do not act on our over crowded skies and airports it will "cost our economy $22 billion annually by 2022" (NextGen Fact Sheet, 2007).

Major benefits of NextGen:

Less congestion

Clearer directions from controllers

Better pilot awareness

Increased fuel economy

Better weather depictions

Reduced taxi time

(NextGen Fact Sheet, 2007)

In conclusion, as the skies over our country become congested the FAA is preparing their new air traffic control system, NextGen. NextGen is a state of the air GPS tracking of aircraft. It allows pilots to see other aircraft, weather, and restricted areas. It also allows pilots to fly a more direct path to their destination. It helps controllers reduce the amount of taxi time and clear and concise taxi instructions. Yes, the whole system may cost billions of dollars but the airline industry cannot afford to lose over $22 billion every year due to congestion and lost revenue. So passengers, pilots, and controllers should see the benefits of NextGen starting today and for years to come as new technologies are installed to the system. One investment the government has done right!