FAA looks to speed modernization

The Federal Aviation Administration has begun re-evaluating its Operational Evolution Plan (OEP) to determine whether it could accelerate some initiatives, according to the agency's top official.

The FAA's decision to review the OEP — a mix of information technology and other projects — comes at a time when the airline industry is struggling.

Agency officials now believe demand will not return to pre-Sept. 11, 2001, levels until 2005, creating a window of opportunity to move modernization forward, officials said.

"This is an industry in economic peril," said agency Administrator Marion Blakey, speaking March 17 at the 28th annual FAA Commercial Aviation Forecast Conference. "But traffic will come back."

With the OEP, the agency has committed to increasing capacity by 30 percent. To take advantage of some new tools, however, airlines must purchase equipment, an investment "that is largely on hold," Blakey said.

The update of the OEP, Version 5.0, released in December 2001, extended the time frame for completion by three years to 2013.

The FAA would look to expedite programs that provide benefits to airlines, including fuel savings, Blakey said. Already in Version 5.0, the agency expanded plans for some and delayed others.

On the governmentwide level, the FAA is hashing out a shared view for the aviation system of the future with NASA, the Defense Department and the Transportation Security Administration that will stretch through 2020, according to Blakey.

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