Research Paper on Proposed Changes to ATC Operation:
The Air Traffic Control system in the United States has been under some scrutiny lately for many reasons. The first reason being the age of most of its equipment, and the fact that it is terrestrial-based at a time of satellite technology. With many other aspects underlying it, efficiency is the other reason. This goes from efficiency in taxiing, takeoff, en route, approaches, and landing. The problem today is that the current system is becoming more and more crowded because of its WWII era technology. What can we do to fix that? There are many possible solutions into which I will indulge.
The first topic, which will be covered, is the option of privatizing the ATC system. New Zealand and Canada already have systems like this that have been taken out of government hands, and have still produced good results. The fact of the matter is that ATC, being a government organization, is subject to budget uncertainties and politics that are not seen with private businesses. One cited example that caught my eye was from a company called Nav Canada that offers a 50% discount if its customers use digital data link for transatlantic position reports. What a great idea. With this, the system itself has become more efficient, and the users have also become more efficient as well as better equipped. In the long run, this efficiency has led to less cost for Nav Canada and more profits for its users. With times of the US government in a crunch for money, the only way to see expedient changes in technology will be through a privately owned entity due to the government running out of one budget that is split among many separate organizations. However, the government is trying to do its part to keep up with ever-changing technology.
The government does realize that technology plays the biggest part in efficiency of the system. To do this, they know they have to increase the capacity of the National Airspace System (NAS). They are trying to work with Boeing and their new Air Traffic Management (ATM) system. The two main pieces of technology that they are looking at are the use of satellites and, like Nav Canada has already implemented, the use of digital communication. The changes are being made to revamp how aircraft are separated, how precisely their flight paths can be controlled, and how they operate on runways and taxiways. One change they are making is aircraft separation by time instead of distance. The old “miles-in-trail” will be replaced by a time-based metering that will increase the overall capacity of the system, but especially the airspace in the terminal areas surrounding airports where congestion is the biggest concern. The FAA, with the help of the Boeing ATM system, has already started a trial at LAX with this time-based metering system. They have already seen tremendous improvements. Instead of the previous 10-15 miles-in-trail, they have it narrowed down by time to a 6 mile-in-trail equivalent. That is a bare minimum improvement of 40%. With new satellite systems in place, efficiency will continue to increase further. Another operating concept is four-dimension trajectory management. This system, developed by Boeing, uses the three special elements plus time to expand control of aircraft to include vertical flight paths. This will mainly be used for en route airspace, but also is being developed additionally for curved approaches. As mentioned, curved approaches will also start to take over the sky. With the help of more advanced FMS systems, they can be designed to avoid obstacles and use the airspace more efficiently, which is the key to improvement. The last key concept that the government has in mind is better runway and taxiway design. They look to do this to mainly help safety when runway incursions are at top of the list of hazards for civil aviation.
Secondly, it would again promote efficiency. They look to do this by limiting the points on an airport where taxiways cross the actual runway and to redesign current ground layouts to include more high speed taxiways to help increase traffic flow for arrivals and departures.
In all of this, Boeing seems to be the prime mover in the development of new systems and technology. This is also confirmed by a few of Boeing’s recent acquisitions. They have purchased Hughes’ space and communication businesses and turned it into Boeing Satellite Services. They have also recently acquired Jeppesen, the premier aeronautical charting company, and The Preston Group, the world’s leading airspace modeling company. The FAA has stated it is committed to solving the country’s air transportation problems.
They have developed its Operational Evolution Plan (OEP) in response to rapidly increasing delays and demand that will soon outgrow the current system. Boeing Air Traffic Management has taken the OEP system and built on it. Boeing likes many of the ideas presented in the OEP, but believes that they can make the system even more efficient with more aggressive moves. The FAA has supported the Boeing proposal due to the fact that it has strong links with the FAA, but personally, I think it is because of all the monetary wealth and private funding that Boeing has obtained. One of the critical components that the system plans to build on is the Common Information Network (CIN). Through this, onboard flight management systems and ground-based air traffic service providers will have immediate access to the same real-time data. This will become one of the biggest improvements in efficiency, because before now, systems were developed independently and at different times, so they were never designed to work together. That resulted in no one having the same information at the same time, which in turn caused a lag in response time, costing people time and money. As stated before, the previous miles-in-trail system will be replaced by a time-based metering system that will improve the capacity and efficiency of the system. This is due to the new GPS III system, based on numerous signals and the use of the higher power L5 frequency (1,176.45 MHz) needed for greater precision. The accuracy objectives of the new high-performance receivers, that would be used on the airliners, include a margin of error that is phenomenal; 0.5 meters horizontally and 1.1 meters vertically. Among the benefits are a much lower miles-in-trail equivalent and the possibility of lower instrument approach minimums. Full operating capability is expected in 2015.
Even though the situation has changed since 9/11 and economic downturns have caused a decrease in air traffic, the demand for air transport across the country will without doubt return to previous levels. Once it reaches that point again, the country will have to deal with more delays and cancellations. Industry experts predict that air traffic volume will more than double by 2020.
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