FAA restores funding to test new air traffic control concept

The Federal Aviation Administration has restored $14.8 million in fiscal 1999 funding for a critical program that will move the agency one step closer to a revolutionary concept in air traffic control.

Funding for the so-called Free Flight Phase 1 program will allow the agency to test five capabilities in the field that are essential for free flight. Free flight is a new concept in air traffic management in which pilots—using a network of air and ground communication systems, on-board computers and Global Positioning System navigational aids—choose the best route, speed and altitude based on flying conditions such as weather and the amount of air traffic.

Currently, pilots almost exclusively rely on air traffic controllers to select a route from a centralized command and control system. Free flight is central to the agency's National Airspace System modernization effort.

Specifically, the new funding will pay for further developing tools that already exist in some form today into capabilities that will help the FAA change the way it delivers its services, said Charles Keegan, director of the FAA's Free Flight Phase 1 program office.

Because the FAA submitted its fiscal 1999 budget to the Office of Management and Budget before it had established the Free Flight Phase 1 program office, the fiscal 1999 budget did not include money for the program.

The FAA, in its fiscal 2000 budget request submitted to Congress in February, asked for about $183 million to fund the Free Flight Phase 1 program.

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