Mineta backs FAA satellite system

The crowded skies would be easier to control by using satellites to track aircraft, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta told a gathering of aviation professionals.

A satellite navigation system was among the long-term technological solutions for air traffic congestion endorsed by Mineta at a March 21 meeting of the Air Traffic Control Association Inc. in Washington. His commitment to new air traffic control tools to improve capacity contrasts with recommendations by organizations such as the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which advocates adding runways to increase capacity on the ground.

"One idea I am convinced will make a difference is better use of the radio spectrum," Mineta said. "Furthermore, when it comes to satellite navigation, we must advance and expedite development of the Wide Area Augmentation System."

Mineta also said he supports the Federal Aviation Administration's Free Flight program, which is implementing software tools that improve the flow of aircraft into airports.

WAAS, being developed by Raytheon Co., uses Global Positioning System satellite data to determine an aircraft's location. Information about the precise position, altitude and speed of aircraft is intended to give air traffic controllers more flexibility to reduce spacing between en route aircraft. The system also is designed to provide precision landing guidance in poor visibility, but a number of software problems — including the failure of the system to warn pilots of incorrect GPS data — have forced the FAA to reconsider that goal.

The FAA asked a panel of experts to make recommendations about the technical capabilities of the $3 billion system and asked a separate independent review board to deliver its recommendations earlier this year.

The agency plans to review the results of the independent review board with Mineta in the next several weeks and then announce its decision, said Monte Belger, acting deputy administrator of the FAA.

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