Like many people, I am very excited that the FAA finally has a stable source of funding, as you may have already read. Probably the biggest reason that I am excited is that NextGen Air Traffic Control may finally get the funding it needs to get fully implemented. This is something that has been in development for over a decade, if not longer.
One of the problems with the implementation is that there are two sides to NextGen, and without both sides doing their part the whole thing is just a big waste of money.
The FAA has to develop the system at airports, and throughout the entire air traffic system. They have to install ground stations and train their controllers on how the whole thing works. They also have to develop the departures, en route tracks, and arrivals that are supposed to save millions of dollars, and a good amount of time.
The other side is the aircraft owners, mostly the airlines, who must upgrade their aircraft to support the new technology. That means spending billions of dollars on equipment that right now isn’t even fully functional. That is a lot to ask of companies that are running on fumes as it is.
The cool thing about the new funding bill is that it included provisions to help move the whole process along. An article written by Alan Levin of Bloomberg.com discusses a couple of very important aspects of the new bill that will definitely aid in the implementation of the NextGen system.
Like so many things, money is a huge aspect of the whole situation. NextGen is supposed to lead to huge fuel savings by making routes, and air traffic in general, far more efficient. But, in order to realize those savings there must be an initial investment. The new funding bill provides a mechanism where the Department of Transportation can guarantee loans to help with the upgrading of all these aircraft. While a gift is better than a loan, it is definitely a much better prospect than having to find the funding themselves.
Maybe one of the biggest time savers that the bill offers is the ability to receive a “categorical exclusion” from environmental reviews for flight paths if they save fuel, and reduce noise. Now I love the environment as much as the next guy. Many of my fondest memories are from time spent in real wilderness areas. That being said, it is ridiculous how long many of these environmental studies take, and even then the results are somewhat questionable.
Most people realize that pretty much any data collected can be twisted to suit the needs of whoever wants to use them. While there is some complaining from environmentalists that this exclusion will become too commonplace I really don’t see what they have to complain about. It only applies if the new route reduces fuel use and noise, or in other words, if the new route does exactly what the environmentalists want them to do.
The full bill is 375 pages so who knows how many provisions are in there that may help the process along, or how many other points there are that may actually hurt the process. All I know is that our current system is based on ancient technology, and it needs to be updated. The technology is there and ready to be used; it is just a matter of getting the whole system set up. I am extremely happy to see that the new bill is doing its part to speed up the process.