Boeing plan brings nod

Industry and Federal Aviation Administration leaders say they're encouraged that Boeing Co.'s foray into air traffic management with the preparation of an FAA modernization master plan could speed development of a satellite-based air traffic control system.

Boeing started its Boeing Air Traffic Management business unit in fall 2000 and has started discussing a long-range plan it expects to submit to the FAA in May. The plan details requirements and components of the proposed system.

Once the company assesses the needs for additional capacity, it will develop a framework for the system and decide what technologies fit best, said Tim Neale, Boeing spokesman. The design, which will likely be satellite-based, will leverage Boeing's satellite manufacturing, modeling and systems integration capabilities, he said.

Although they are awaiting more details, government and industry observers said they are pleased that industry is taking the lead to improve the air traffic control system. The FAA has been developing a satellite-based navigation system for years but has been hampered by technical problems.

"The FAA has clearly shown [its] inability to bring new technology to the ATC system in a timely and cost- effective manner," said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association. "It took someone from the outside to shake things up."

FAA Administrator Jane Garvey said in a statement that she is intrigued by the preliminary details and welcomes any efforts to advance technology.

Don Antonucci, president of Lockheed Martin Air Traffic Management, said his firm has had discussions with Boeing but is mostly watching from the sidelines.

"I'm somewhat skeptical when I hear of a grandiose plan," Antonucci said. "The right solution is to work through the FAA to reach the stakeholders to come up with well-planned, incremental improvements to the system."

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