Monday, August 16, 2010

It’s Time to Move On FAA Modernization

Posted by Travel Sentry

Washington D.C. is quiet. U.S. senators and representatives have gone home for the congressional recess until mid-September. When they return, they will have a scant few weeks before the current (latest of many) FAA status-quo extension expires.

Many aviation industry groups like the Air Line Pilots Association and the Air Traffic Controllers Association are urging U.S. citizens to encourage their congressmen to pass a comprehensive FAA authorization bill upon their return.

“In addition to providing for stable operations of the FAA and the national airspace system, the bill is a critical step toward modernization and the transition to NextGen,” says the ALPA. “The bill also includes many long-standing ALPA priorities, such as improvements in runway safety prevention, the development of wake vortex mitigation and in-flight weather detection systems including volcanic ash and icing, requirements for air carrier citizenship, and a study of hardened cockpit doors for all-cargo aircraft.”

As I’ve written many times before, new FAA legislation has been kicked down the road to nowhere for well over two years. The FAA has been waiting for a new reauthorization bill since 2007. The problem is that members of Congress continue to get feathers in their cap for insignificant local projects (insignificant in the larger safety and efficiency scheme) by way of pork, while the large modernization projects like NextGen get relegated to the back burner of spending priorities.

The seat at the head of the FAA remained vacant two years so that when stimulus dollars were flowing from the horn of plenty, there was no one from FAA with their hand out. The aviation industry ended up at the bottom of the food chain empty handed.

The FAA has been pushing for a long-term modernization that would include replacing the current method of tracking planes, which uses World War II-era radar technology, by switching to a satellite-guided system that equips planes with GPS. "This is one of the largest project management challenges the U.S. government has had since we put somebody on the moon," Hank Krakowski, chief operations officer for the U.S. air traffic system, told the Associated Press.

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