FAA modernization plan ready

The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to announce this week a long-term effort to accommodate an expected sharp rise in flights and passengers within an already-taxed airspace system.

The FAA's National Airspace System Operational Evolution Plan (OEP) spells out a series of steps to be completed by 2010 that will expand the capacity of the airspace system to meet passenger demand. The current version of the plan is summarized at www.caasd.org/nas-evol.

According to the plan summary, 1.9 million passengers move through the air transportation system daily, and another 1 million passengers are expected per day by 2010 — even though today's passengers experience frequent flight cancellations and delays.

The plan lays out short-, mid- and long-term steps for increasing airspace system capacity and identifies major areas needing attention: arrival and departure rates, airport weather conditions, en route congestion and en route severe weather.

Many of the steps involve using developing technologies, such as automated decision support aids for controllers, satellite-based navigation, improved cockpit displays for pilots and precision approach-equipped runways.

Included in the OEP summary is a letter dated June 5 from FAA Administrator Jane Garvey to aviation stakeholders. The letter emphasizes the FAA's need to become more performance-based and a need for cooperation among members of the aviation community, including air traffic controllers, airlines, pilots, passengers and manufacturers.

"The Operation Evolution Plan is the FAA's commitment to meet the air transportation needs of the United States for the next 10 years, with a focus on maintaining safety, increasing capacity and managing delays," Garvey wrote. "The OEP will mature over time through joint community decisions. The current version represents a credible set of initiatives to increase capacity."

From 2001 to 2010, the FAA expects to spend about $11.5 billion for facilities and equipment to enhance capacity, according to the OEP summary.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, one of the organizations that has helped develop the plan, released a statement Monday supporting it. "We believe [the plan's] capacity enhancements, in combination with the growing national urgency in building new runways, will best serve our nation's needs in the coming decade."

Michael Wascom, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, also expressed support for the plan. "We're encouraged and see this as a major step forward," he said. "The logical next step is to focus on the various initiatives, prioritize them and fine-tune the schedules" so that the plan's steps are worked on in a timely way, he said. However, he also stressed the need to build more runways to meet increased demand.

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