A New Look for the National Airspace System?

 - October 4, 2006, 8:16 AM

In the ongoing debate about what the next generation air transportation system (NGATS) should entail, the Air Traffic Control Association held a symposium in Washington in late June to discuss “Rightsizing the NAS.”

Participants from all sectors of the aviation industry, including the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization (ATO), examined the expected cost of the system and reviewed projected demand for the infrastructure and how to pay for it.

The Department of Transportation launched NGATS nearly two years ago with the support of the Departments of Commerce, Defense and Homeland Security, as well as NASA and the FAA, to develop a future air transportation system that will take advantage of the latest technologies while fully incorporating the many security improvements introduced in recent years.

In prepared remarks, Russell Chew, chief operating officer of the ATO, said the FAA has to be flexible enough to adopt new procedures and redesign the airspace to take advantage of new technologies and changes in the industry. The agency must reduce its operating costs, he said, but at the same time, it must ensure that it has the right number of controllers in the right places.

“Most of our airlines continue to struggle financially, and the FAA is pressured to balance growing demand against dwindling resources,” said Chew. “It is uncertain how we can continue to provide the level of air traffic services the industry and the public have come to expect. So the question before us today is, ‘What do we need from the future NAS and how do we make that happen?’”

Among the panelists were Ed Bolen, president and CEO of NBAA; John Carr, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association; John Meenan, executive vice president of the Air Transport Association; and Fred Pease, Air Force deputy assistant secretary for basing and infrastructure analysis.

Emphasizing the need for more collaboration, Bolen requested that any new technology be built with flexibility for the future in mind, while Meenan cautioned that changes should be made using “building blocks” rather than a “big bang” approach.

Pease emphasized that special-use airspace is important to the Air Force’s mission and that special-use airspace requirements were a key factor in determining Air Force recommendations for base alignment and closure.