FAA pressed to revamp sooner

Even as the Federal Aviation Administration struggles to find money to keep key modernization programs on track a White House commission last week called for the FAA to develop a plan in the next six months to accelerate the revamp of the nation's aging air traffic control system.

Rather than proceeding with its current strategy to replace all major elements of the air traffic control infrastructure by 2012 the FAA should push to complete the program by 2005 according to a report by the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security.

The report also called for Congress to allow the FAA to adopt innovative strategies for funding the accelerated program including the use of multiple-year funding plans and the adoption of user fees.

While such recommendations face fierce resistance in the aviation community the commission concluded such measures are justified because of urgent concerns about the ability of the FAA to manage the growing air traffic volume anticipated by the agency.

"The FAA's current plan calls for the modernized system to be operational after 2012. That is simply too long to postpone the safety and economic benefits that will derive from the modernized system " the report concluded.

Ready and Willing

The FAA declined to comment on the contents of the report but in a statement said the agency "is ready to work with the White House the Congress and the aviation community to see that the recommendations are implemented as quickly as possible."

The report followed a six-month study of the aviation industry ordered by President Clinton following the crash of TWA Flight 800. The commission headed by Vice President Al Gore initially focused on security threats. However after an initial set of recommendations the panel also considered other aspects of safety including the capacity of the National Airspace System which includes technology for communication navigation surveillance and air traffic management.

In its report the commission described modernization as "critical to the safety of the traveling public to maintaining our world leadership in aviation and to our economic interests."

During the course of its study FAA officials testified that based on expected funding levels for the next five to 10 years the agency would only have enough money to complete a few core modernization projects already under way. If that is the case many ancillary programs that have been pushed by the aviation community will not see the light of day.

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