Archaic system to blame for midair


According to news reports, FAA tower controllers were warned about the midair collision over the Hudson River but were unable to alert either of the pilots. This failure of communication cost two aircraft, nine lives, and unmeasurable bad publicity for GA.

The blame for this failure belongs on the archaic simplex FM voice radio system used since World War II to communicate between aircraft and controllers. Each of the people involved probably did what he was supposed to do, but the system let them down. Now that we are firmly in the Information Age we must ask why a system developed relatively early in the Industrial Age is still used to control air traffic.

You might think the new “NextGen” National Airspace System scheduled to be implemented over the next two decades would fix this. Unfortunately, NextGen only addresses the surveillance upgrade needed to replace Radar systems that are nearly impossible to maintain since their underlying technology is so old. The FAA plan seems to be to continue to use human voices transmitted over archaic radio channels forever.

NextGen technology includes bidirectional digital communication channels between each airplane and every other airplane, as well as ground stations. So why doesn’t the FAA use this same path for basic flight control purposes? Perhaps the answer is the FAA just isn’t willing to take any chances on new-fangled technology like digital communications networks for ATC.

PAUL MULWITZ, Camas, Wash.

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