Honeywell urges U.S. to move on ATM funding

 - December 12, 2006, 8:21 AM

Honeywell is warning lawmakers in Washington to stop stalling over plans for air traffic management (ATM) funding. By contrast, he said that their European counterparts have more quickly confronted the problem.

Dean Flatt, president and CEO of Honeywell aerospace electronic systems, said the company’s internal research has shown that with no changes to the current ATC system in the U.S., sector congestion will lead to unavoidable chokepoints in the ATC system by 2024. He said today’s en route structure is already stretched as airline traffic levels continue to rebound, travel delays will inevitably worsen.

“We feel that it is very important to get serious about increasing en route capacity now,” Flatt said. “Europe has taken on this issue as an imperative, but in the U.S. there does not seem to be the same urgency to get things done.”

Honeywell clearly feels it could be tasked with developing significant portions of a modernized ATC system, giving the company a guaranteed flow of revenue for years. The U.S. group has approached Boeing about cooperation on such efforts and recently told members of the U.S. Congress that unless ATM technology initiatives get fully funded, the U.S. air traffic system runs the risk of breaking down.

Playing a political card, the company called on U.S. lawmakers to support ATM modernization as a way to help struggling airlines save money. Honeywell’s plan centers on satellite-based navigation and other technologies that will allow the FAA to decommission most of the 1,000-plus ground-based navaids in the U.S. and replace them with a Free Flight-like operating regime where airplanes would fly on the most efficient routes and at optimum altitudes.

On a transcontinental flight, an airliner would fly a 3-percent shorter route by flying direct rather than over independent navaids, Honeywell says. It might not seem like much, but Honeywell contends the switch to satellite navigation would save the airlines more than $600 million in fuel each year.

High-level Architecture

Europe found itself in an overcapacity predicament a few years ago, leading to a decision by the European Union to push ahead with capacity improvements. A major focus of Eurocontrol’s activities, and one supported by the European Commission, centers on a project aimed at defining high-level architecture to support future concepts. Flatt said he applauds Europe’s efforts and wishes the U.S. would pay more attention.

“ATM modernization just doesn’t seem to be on anybody’s radar screen in Washington yet,” he said.

Bob Johnson, former CEO of Honeywell Aerospace and now its chairman, said the ability to work across geopolitical boundaries will prove crucial as Eurocontrol and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration move ahead with modernization projects. As head of the U.S. Aerospace Industries Association, Johnson is part of a U.S. contingent working with Europe to harmonize modernization goals, but he admitted that the U.S. hasn’t fully engaged in the effort.

Johnson said he understands that the current financial crunch facing the FAA and Congress makes for difficult choices concerning ATM funding, but he predicted lawmakers will start paying closer attention to airspace capacity issues once airline delays begin making national headlines.

“It will become a matter of necessity and a matter of efficiency,” he said. “Nobody is paying much attention now.”