Significant changes in the works for the future of aviation

WASHINGTON, D.C. — When Congress passed the Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act in December 2003, it called for the development of an integrated plan to “”ensure that the next generation air transportation system meets air transportation safety, security, mobility, efficiency, and capacity needs beyond those currently included in the FAA’s Operational Evolution Plan.””

Norman Mineta, secretary of the Department of Transportation, and Marion Blakey, FAA administrator, recently submitted those plans in a 35-page document that lays out significant changes in the way aviation will move in the next 25 years.

What this plan sees ahead will be both evolutionary and revolutionary. It recognizes that the present airport and air traffic control systems won’t work in the expanding air transportation era. There will be a need for more automation and an expanded development of technology.

Advances must be made in all-weather flying and in automated approaches, permitting airports to have simultaneous multiple runway operations under all-weather conditions. To relieve congestion, there will be a relaxation of single runway occupancy restrictions, improved wake vortex sensing, and a reliance on automated approach, landing and departure systems. Technology for these and other needed changes needs to be developed.

Just as the telephone system had to automate so all calls would not have to go through an operator, the air traffic control system will need more automation and “”control by exception.”” That means fly as you drive your car and talk only if there is an exception to your planned and filed flight plan.

The plan states that airports and air traffic services “”may use market-based mechanisms such as peak period pricing to ease congestion and ensure that the maximum economic value is obtained from resources in high demand.”” It also declares that air traffic services “”will use airspace over major metropolitan areas or along major travel routes in a manner that reflects the priorities for using that capacity.”” Air traffic control will “”migrate from control on individual flights to air traffic management where airspace is allocated based on traffic flows.”” Read this to mean high fees for some airports and restrictions on the use of some busy airspaces and denial of use in others.

Ultimately, the report continues, air traffic services will be tailored and flights managed based on individual aircraft and flight crew performance capabilities. “”Flights requesting use of high demand airspace or airports will contract for use of these resources through a variety of mechanisms,”” the report states.

The plan also seems to move one part of general aviation — the business jet — into the network carrier realm, relegating what it calls “”self-piloted”” flights to regional airports.

Operations in the United States must also consider worldwide operations, the plan declares, increasing the coordination of equipment requirements and traffic management between nations.

Obviously, great strides are needed in technology for much of this to happen. This will require revolutions in equipment in the planes and on the ground. The changes will be evolutionary. We won’t wake up one morning in 25 years and suddenly see the changes. Also, research, development, economic conditions and political pressures will alter some of the issues.

However, the plan does lay out a roadmap for how those in power see the future. If general aviation doesn’t like the destination, now is the time to start changing the direction of thinking.

Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.

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