Air Traffic Control of the 21st Century

Air Traffic Control of the 21st Century

By Paula Hock

Technology Basics

NextGen or Next Generation Air Transportation System is a new air traffic control system based on satellite communications that will use GPS to shorten airline routes and save both time and fuel. NextGen will be implemented in the U.S. between 2012 to 2025. This system was planned and developed as per the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) which was created by Congress in 2003.

The Next Generation Air Transportation System has four parts:  

  1. Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B): This module uses GPS to provide air traffic controllers and pilot with accurate information regarding the aircraft.
  2. Next Generation Data Communication (Data Comm): This element creates better communication between the pilots and air traffic controllers compared to the current radio based system.
  3. Next Generation Network Enabled Weather (NNEW):  Currently, weather-related issues account for up to 70% of total delays in air travel. This part of the system will take global weather information from all land-based,airborne, and satellite based systems to reduce weather-related delays by 50%.
  4. National Airspace System Voice Switch (NVS): This will provide a uniform voice air/ground and ground/ground communication system, replacing the existing seventeen different voice switching systems.

NextGen Benefits for Pilots and Air Traffic Controllers

The Next Generation Air Transportation System  has many benefits including reducing traffic delays, increasing air traffic capacity, and increasing the ability of controllers to monitor and manage aircrafts. It is estimated that implementing this initiative would give pilots the ability to choose their route between destinations, unlike current use of a grid-like system of routes.

NextGen would also require aircrafts to obtain information from other airplanes nearby, thus ensuring safe passage. Due to satellite communication and automation capabilities in this system, it reduces  the amount of data that airplane crews processes at any given time.

The NextGen system would also provide additional information to ground control thus reducing landing time, enhancing navigating through bad weather, and reducing of taxi time. It is estimated that these reductions could result in saving 1.4 billion gallons of fuel by 2018, reduce emissions by 14 million tons, and reduce costs by $23 billion.

Implementing New Air Traffic Controller Technology

In a collaboration with FedEx, the NextGen system was implemented at Memphis airport for its cargo flights on July 22, 2012. Memphis is the U.S.’s busiest and world’s second busiest cargo airport. This Air Traffic Controller technology saved FedEx time, money and fuel.

This implementation of NextGen system has been delayed due to several budget related issues, but the recent budget proposal by the new administration has laid out measures to fund NextGen moving forward.

Privatized Air Traffic Control?

Implementing NextGen may even allow the air traffic control system to be privatized, which is causing a stir in the aviation industryThough the system would minorly affect the commercial and cargo aviation, weekend flyers and small business may end up paying a high price to move into the next technological era.

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