FAA lays out 10-year plan

The Federal Aviation Administration fully embraced Wednesday its Operational Evolution Plan (OEP), which pieces together numerous technology projects and other initiatives with the goal of increasing the capacity of the nation's aviation system by 30 percent by the end of the decade.

"Today we want to say, "This is our plan,'" said Monte Belger, FAA acting deputy administrator. The OEP, developed through a collaboration with air traffic controller, airline, airport and other aviation representatives, incorporates more than 50 initiatives and lays out short-, mid- and long-term time frames for their completion.

"What we have done is pull it all together," Belger said. "[The OEP] is a compilation of all the things on the books."

For example, the plan sets a mid-term goal of completing the first phase of the Wide Area Augmentation System by the end of 2003. WAAS is designed to enable planes to use Global Positioning System signals to make precise airport approaches.

The first phase of FAA's Free Flight program, which will give pilots more freedom in choosing flight paths, is another mid-term goal.

Belger said no existing contracts will be affected by the OEP, saying that the plan "incorporates almost all existing projects or ideas." The FAA estimates that it will spend $11.5 billion on the plan's initiatives.

The plan categorizes National Airspace System capacity problems into four areas: arrival and departure rates; airport weather conditions; en route severe weather; and en route congestion. Each problem area contains a number of solutions to address it.

For example, under en route congestion, the proposed solutions include reducing voice communication between pilots and air traffic controllers, tightening the vertical space between airborne planes and providing access to restricted airspace. To reduce the need for voice communications, a data link communications system would transmit information between pilots and controllers.

Belger said the OEP differs from previous FAA initiatives because it was developed in consultation with a variety of aviation community members and because it takes an incremental approach to address capacity needs. The plan only includes initiatives the FAA believes are attainable by 2010, and it is flexible to accommodate new ideas.

"As new ideas become implementable, we will incorporate these ideas in to the plan as well," he said. "It will not look the same as it does today."

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