Air traffic control center opens

A new, high-tech air traffic control center that eventually will consolidate five existing facilities became operational Dec. 14.

The Potomac Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) in Manassas, Va., opened with about 60 controllers from Washington Dulles International Airport. Colleagues from Ronald Reagan Washington National, Richmond International and Baltimore-Washington International airports and Andrews Air Force Base will soon join them.

Eventually, the center will have about 300 employees and manage about 5,000 flights daily in airspace that stretches across five states.

A TRACON guides aircraft into and out of an airport. At the Potomac facility, controllers are using an automated system, supplied by Lockheed Martin Corp., that features color displays and better backup support, according to a company news release.

"The Potomac TRACON is a fine example of how we plan to chart a new century of safe and efficient air travel throughout the nation," FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said in an agency release. "Programs such as this are a key component in our effort to safely increase aviation system capacity by 30 percent in the next decade."

In 2003, the FAA will begin reconfiguring the region's airspace -- for now, it remains partitioned among the four local airports -- to enable more direct routing. The move is expected to reduce noise and fuel consumption, providing about $25 million in savings.

Total estimated cost of the Potomac TRACON is $95 million.

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