FAA relieves some airspace gridlock

The Federal Aviation Administration is redesigning airspace in higher altitudes to give pilots and controllers more flexibility in changing their routes to avoid severe weather and resolve traffic conflicts.

Seven en route air traffic control centers, including Seattle, Salt Lake City, Denver and Chicago, began yesterday using point-to-point navigation for flight planning using waypoints, the FAA said.

Using a grid network, waypoints are predetermined geographical positions used for route instrument approach and reference points.

Typically, pilots flying instrument flight rules use ground-based navigation aids that required flying toward or away from that navigation aid, said John Timmerman, manager, FAA's Air Traffic Organization's high altitude airspace redesign program.

Ground-based routes zigzag across the country, crossing and converging. 'By laying out a grid and providing way points, you're essentially freeing the pilot to fly satellite-based area navigation or RNAV,' Timmerman said in a report for FAA's Web site. RNAV is a generic term for various navigational aids, such as global positioning satellite via the airplane's RNAV computer.

RNAV gives pilots the freedom to fly their preferred routes and altitudes and gives controllers added routes with more precision and flexibility. RNAV will also provide parallel traffic flows, more rerouting choices and improve pilot situation awareness.

The redesign is occurring in phases and will move forward as ground-based and aircraft technology improves. The first implementation is at the very high flight levels. As technology allows, more flight altitude levels will be added.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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