FAA testing system to reduce delays
PHILADELPHIA – Federal officials showcased an experimental air traffic control system that would let pilots see other nearby planes and help prevent gridlock in the skies.The Federal Aviation Administration hopes the satellite-based navigation system will replace the current land-based system in the coming decades.On a flight out of a Philadelphia airstrip on Friday, the FAA demonstrated parts of the system to a group of reporters. During the U-turn flight between Philadelphia and suburban Washington, D.C., the plane used current navigational systems, but officials showed how the new technology worked.A small, brightly colored screen provided a detailed picture of all the planes nearby, which showed up as green triangles. The system uses GPS signals to give pilots information.The agency hopes the so-called NextGen system can eventually help reduce flight delays by allowing aircraft to fly closer together in the crowded skies and enabling pilots to weave their own courses.The FAA is asking Congress to approve $4.6 billion over the next five years for developing the system, now being tested on flights in Alaska. Development could cost $15 billion to $20 billion.Manny Weiss, the FAA’s eastern regional administrator, said the country needs to get away from World War II-era navigational systems, which, along with the nation’s highways and bridges, are in dire need of repairs and upgrades.”The entire infrastructure in this country has reached the end of its useful life,” Weiss said.Some in Congress have questioned whether it is wise to spend billions of dollars on the new system when so many other parts of the air traffic control systems are aging.But FAA officials on Friday’s flight said it is one of the most effective ways to reduce flight delays that reached historic levels in 2006 – when only 75 percent of flights arrived on time at the nation’s 35 busiest airports.Last year, passengers at the three most delayed airports in the nation – Newark Liberty International Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport – experienced on-time arrivals of about 65 percent.