Air Flight Technology Crucial

October 15, 2007
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Implementation of a satellite-based system for air traffic control and in-flight navigation is an essential step in not only easing much of the congestion and delays in the air transport system, but in preserving this country’s economic integrity on the global stage.

As was outlined last week by Congressman Vern Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids, and by local airport officials and economic development leaders, overhaul of the nation’s ATC system is being discussed by the Federal Aviation Administration, and a reauthorization bill is in Congress that would put implementation of the vital system on a fast track. Congress and the administration must remove the usual politics from this process and recognize the value of this technology in securing safe and efficient air commerce for decades to come.

The current antiquated flight control system, combined with weather challenges and overcapacity at hubs that can’t build additional runways and facilities fast enough, is causing a gridlock, including constraints on essential cargo traffic, that will sooner than later “bring the U.S. economy to its knees,” as was so aptly put by James Koslosky, aeronautics director for Gerald R. Ford International Airport.

If the major travel hubs aren’t able to increase capacity, planes and passengers will continue to stack up. Rather than moving existing air traffic “at the speed of voice,” as noted by Daniel Elwell of the FAA, a new speed-of-satellite communications system would give air traffic controllers the ability to identify the precise positioning of aircraft at any point in time using radar-like surveillance equipment known as Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, which relies on the Global Positioning System network.

Note use of the word “global.” Europe, Australia and Canada are among the nations already converting to the new satellite-based system. The U.S. will continue to fall woefully behind as a global business destination without a new control system in place in short order.

The probability that international flights operating with the new technology will eventually not be able to fly into U.S. destinations or from this country into foreign destinations safely will likely force the airlines to push even harder to install the new communications systems in their aircraft. The satellite infrastructure on the ground must follow, and that is a national government concern and should be a focused priority.

Misplaced priorities currently focus on baggage claim systems and the length of time airline flights should be allowed to sit on the ground filled with passengers who are all dressed up and who do have a place to go. This is a waste of time when the root causes of gridlock are left languishing in the unnecessary political morass. Those passengers, whether business travelers or those on general leisure trips, don’t care how the system is made more efficient — they just know the odds of them getting where they want to go on time are dropping by the day.

Business people are increasingly venturing into owning and operating private planes or corporate jets, making regional airports more valuable for their access and egress. This reality comes at a time when regional airport expansion projects such as that sought by Tulip City Airport in Holland are unfairly criticized. These facilities will continue to play an important economic role and should not be viewed as being burdensome to the ability of larger metropolitan facilities to effectively serve their population base.

Getting air traffic out of the swamp and into the sky can be accomplished in a number of ways. It’s past time to make those conditions a reality.     

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