FAA ready to let aircraft fly closer to each other

FAA ready to let aircraft fly closer to each other

The Federal Aviation Administration won't need to upgrade its air traffic control systems to implement a plan to let airliners fly closer to each other, agency officials said.

The modernized air traffic control systems FAA installed several years ago gave controllers the ability to handle reduced space between high-flying aircraft, an FAA spokesman said. The agency equipped 21 en route centers with the Host computer system, comprised of new mainframes in 1999 and new displays and workstations in 2000.

This week, FAA said it would by January 2005 implement the Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum rule to increase the national airspace system's load capacity and efficiency at high altitudes, the FAA said yesterday.

The rule reduces the minimum vertical separation between aircraft from the current 2,000 feet apart to 1,000 feet apart when flying at an altitude between 29,000 and 41,000 feet.

The separation rule offers greater flexibility for air traffic controllers and reduces their workload, for example, when they must reroute flights around bad weather or have many aircraft flying the same route at similar altitudes. Controllers will have more options to separate aircraft on intersecting routes, the FAA said.

The 2005 deadline gives airlines time to install more accurate altimeter devices and autopilot systems, which will require updated altitude-hold equipment, to ensure the highest level of safety.

'This rule offers a combination of greater aviation safety, capacity and cost efficiency,' said FAA Administrator Marion Blakey at a briefing about the agency's Flight Plan 2004-2008. 'RVSM positions the country's high-altitude airspace to meet future demand,' she said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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