That's the enviable position I find myself in as the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) continues to come on-line.
Today, I was pleased to announce that, by the end of December, air traffic controllers will begin tracking aircraft flying over the Gulf of Mexico using one of NextGen's core technologies, ADS-B.
NextGen is really nothing less than a transformation of our National Airspace System. In a nutshell, the system transitions us from a ground-based air traffic control system to a satellite-based system using aviation-specific applications for existing technologies like GPS, new airport infrastructure, and new procedures. It is being hailed as the most important innovation in air traffic control since World War II.
Over the Gulf of Mexico, the satellite-based system fixes the problem of radar's 150-mile range constraint over large water bodies.
This allows air traffic controllers to see aircraft throughout their Gulf crossings. Which means that air traffic controllers no longer need to ensure a 100-mile buffer around aircraft traversing the Gulf. In turn, this allows more flights across the Gulf at the same time, adding badly needed capacity to the Gulf's commercial aviation network.
And this also allows the many helicopters servicing Gulf oil platforms to see the aircraft around them as well. Which means these helicopters are no longer constrained by the Visual Flight Rules that essentially ground helicopters in bad weather. With about 9,000 oil rigs in the Gulf being serviced by 5,000-9,000 flight operations a day, you can see how this system dramatically opens up low-altitude capacity.
NextGen will allow airports to increase capacity while decreasing costly delays by 35-40% by 2018--without undergoing disruptive runway expansions. By 2018, NextGen will allow aircraft operators to reduce fuel consumption by about a billion gallons a year.
Yet even those benefits pale in comparison to the safety improvement NextGen promises. Aircraft in southwest Alaska have been using ADS-B, a crucial NextGen element. By providing pilots and air-traffic controllers with better, more complete situational awareness, this NextGen component has already reduced the accident rate in that region by an astonishing 47%.
This evolution is vital to meeting future demand and avoiding gridlock in the sky and at our nation’s airports. NextGen will open America’s skies to continued growth, enhanced efficiency, and increased safety while reducing aviation’s environmental impact. Everyone wins.
The stakeholders in air operations recognize the importance of NextGen--Congress and the Obama Administration are committed to working together, and the airline CEOs--ask any of them, and they'll tell you how important this is to their industry. Everyone is committed to making this happen, and we're looking forward to working in public-private partnerships to move NextGen along.
Curious? Please visit the FAA's great set of NextGen web pages at www.faa.gov/nextgen. I particularly like the page on NextGen in 2018 because it shows where our staggered rollout is leading, and it discusses NextGen's role in each stage of a flight from gate to gate. If you're not in the mood to read, they've even got a page showing a half dozen very informative videos.
I'm not the kind of guy to lose his head over every technology that comes down the pike. But a program that delivers safety-improvements, fuel-conservation, and delay-reductions--that just makes sense.