FAA activates airspace redesigns

The Federal Aviation Administration is rolling out technologies to improve its use of airspace, smooth the flow of air traffic and provide air traffic controllers with automated systems that help them make better decisions in dealing with an increase in air traffic.

FAA is working with flight authorities in Canada and Mexico to reduce the difference in altitude that planes must maintain for safety'know as the vertical separation minimum'from 2,000 feet to 1,000 feet in the upper reaches of airspace.

This transition, which will occur simultaneously in the three countries on Jan. 20, 2005, will provide six additional altitude lanes.

'We're redesigning the airspace, building new air traffic control towers, installing new radar systems, expanding the use of Global Positioning System technologies, and equipping facilities with new weather detecting products,' said FAA chief operation officer Russ Chew yesterday at an event sponsored by the Aviation Safety Alliance, an advocacy group. 'There is no lack of good ideas and technical solutions.'

Controllers at 10 en route centers are using an automated system, the User Request Evaluation Tool, which predicts spacing conflicts and lets controllers set more direct routes for flights. This saves airlines time and money.

Once other centers have the tool in place, FAA expects the number of direct routings to increase by 15 percent.

At five facilities, controllers are using the Traffic Management Advisor to help controllers more efficiently sequence arriving and departing aircraft, expanding capacity up to five percent.

But introducing new technology is costly, Chew said. Once deployed, new technology adds significantly to FAA's operating budget because redesigning airspace requires modeling, simulation, drafting of new procedures, publishing new charts, and training for controllers and technicians, he said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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