DOT forecast: Crowded skies
- By Paula Shaki Trimble
- Sep 18, 2000
The Federal Aviation Administration's $2 billion-a-year effort to modernize
the U.S. air traffic control system with new technology will do little to
bring passengers relief from delays already at an all-time high, according
to top Transportation Department officials.
Even the agency's flagship effort to improve capacity, Free Flight phase
one — which will introduce information systems that help controllers better
manage traffic at busy airports and eventually give pilots information to
help them determine the best routes to fly — will provide only incremental
improvements, said Kenneth Mead, DOT inspector general.
"I think it would be a mistake to view that as a panacea," Mead said
during testimony Sept. 14 before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science
and Transportation. DOT Secretary Rodney Slater and FAA chief Jane Garvey
also testified about efforts to reduce delays.
Extensive airline delays during the past two summers are evidence that
the demand for air travel exceeds the capacity of the National Airspace
System. "There is confusion over the extent of relief the modernization
effort is expected to provide," Mead said.
Recent upgrades of the Host and Display System Replacement at the nation's
en route control centers replaced old equipment with new computers but won't
increase the capacity of the system of airports or set air routes similar
to highways in the sky, Mead said. He also said the FAA still is plagued
by problems with software-intensive developments such as its satellite navigation
system, which is years behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget.
Garvey stressed that new IT is intended to provide a platform for future
enhancements that will increase the capacity of the system.
Since the cancellation of the Advanced Automation System modernization
program in 1994, the FAA has changed its strategy for upgrading air traffic
control systems, Garvey said. Instead of using a "big bang" approach, the
FAA builds a little and then tests a little. For Free Flight, the FAA will
implement the new technologies, but industry is responsible for measuring
As new technology is given to air traffic controllers, passenger demand
for more flights fills it, Mead said.