January 15, 2007


Crowded sky clouds future of U.S. air traffic (Matthew L. Wald, January 15, 2007, NY Times)

By 2025, government experts say, America's skies will swarm with three times as many planes as now, and not just the kind of traffic flying today. There will be thousands of tiny jets, seating six or fewer, at airliner altitudes, competing for space with remotely operated drones that need help avoiding midair collisions, and with commercially operated rockets carrying satellites and tourists into space.

To keep passengers moving safely and on schedule, the Federal Aviation Administration needs to replace a half- century of outmoded technology with a new air traffic control system. But almost everything about the proposed system is unsettled -- not only its digital nuts and bolts but also the leadership, financing and staffing of a modern aviation network.

What technology will be adopted, and how will airlines and the government, with its Aviation Trust Fund at its lowest level in decades, pay their shares? How will the government hire and train all the air traffic controllers it needs -- almost as many new recruits, in the next seven years, as are at work today? And how will the aviation agency coordinate with NASA, the Pentagon and others?

"There's a consensus that there is technology out there that could help," said Roger Cohen, the president of the Regional Airline Association, one of many interest groups in the fractious aviation world.

"There certainly isn't a consensus, from the aviation community, on how the system will get paid for," Cohen said. "That's pretty obvious." So far, he said, "there's no consensus on any of the details."

But an overhaul is essential.

No one modernizes just because it's rational and makes economic sense. Start grounding flights and the airlines will replace the system posthaste.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 15, 2007 10:52 AM
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