July , 2006
Saving airlines over a billion dollars in costs over ten years, while gearing up for a threefold increase in the number of airline passengers over the next twenty, sounds difficult. Add to that list efforts to “attack congestion and delays” and the task starts to sound impossible. Yet that’s exactly what the FAA is doing. And just like the Romans building everlasting roads, the FAA is making the most of today’s technology to revolutionize the way you fly, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey told the National Chamber Foundation last month at “The Aviation Crisis: Delayed Not Cancelled.” The event examined the challenges facing the aviation industry.
Administrator Blakey said that although “we’re in the safest period in aviation history,” there is the urgent need to create additional capacity in an industry that never sleeps. Without shutting down airports, the FAA is implementing strategies that would curb congestion and increase navigational capabilities. For instance, Area Navigation and Required Navigation Performance use existing technology like Global Positioning System satellites to decrease congestion and encourage planes to rise to higher altitudes earlier during takeoff. This earlier climb causes a reduction in fuel burn and, consequently, will save an estimated 15 to 30 million dollars per year. And a switch from radar to an automatic surveillance system and a satellite-based system will spell greater accuracy.
These technological solutions to the capacity problem are part of a plan to take us to the next generation – the Next Generation Air Transportation System, that is. Said Blakey, “About two years ago, the Bush Administration launched the next generation air transportation system, [or] NGATS. Pulling together four cabinet level departments — Transportation, Commerce, Defense, and Homeland Security, plus NASA and FAA — NGATS puts a focus on research and technology. It is designed to make sure we’re not duplicating each other’s projects. NGATS is an aviation revolution. It’s a switch from ground-based technology to a satellite-based system that’s the way of the future.”
To make this “aviation revolution” our future, we must financially invest in that future, Blakey said. Money for current activity – from improving airports to modernizing radar systems -- come from a trust fund made up mostly of airline ticket taxes. Those taxes are scheduled to expire in 2007. But the aviation system must operate “like a bottom-line business,” meaning it must find ways to cut costs. Speaking to the Senate Appropriations Committee also in May, Blakey noted that the FAA is looking into alternative financing options and has already eliminated obsolete equipment, saving millions of tax dollars. The new face of aviation relies upon giving “our staff the tools and resources they need to overcome the challenges we face and to become more accountable and cost-efficient.” And as Blakey says, “We can’t afford not to.”
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