How will NextGen be different from the current system and what are the benefits? Well, in short, the current air traffic system is a network of “highways” in the sky. When an airline or jet operator makes a flight plan, it travels across these known and commonly used air traffic routes. NextGen will allow pilots, dispatchers, airlines, and air charter operators to select their own routes, utilizing GPS technology. These routes will most often be point to point across a straight line, rather that navigation through a series of invisible highways. New equipment in the airplanes will send and receive precise information regarding the location of other air traffic along the route. This will make movement about the airspace system more efficient and more customizable than under the current system, allowing for less congestion in high traffic areas. According to the FAA’s March 2011 NextGen Implementation Plan, by 2018 the investment in this equipment will result in a 35% reduction in air traffic delays. This will save the airlines and operators 1.4 billion gallons in fuel and reduce CO2 emissions by 14 million tons. This is a $23 billion economic benefit.
There has been a lot of talk about the implementation of the new National Airspace System. Called the Next Generation Air Transportation System or NextGen, it is set to be implemented in stages between 2012 and 2025. This will be the first major revamp of the United States air traffic system since the 1950’s. Under the current system, complete gridlock is expected by 2022 if changes are not made. The primary goals of NextGen are avoid this gridlock situation while enhancing the safety and reliability of air transportation.
Some airlines that are already using the NextGen-type precision GPS approaches are seeing the benefits. Southwest Airlines is using it at several domestic airports and they have estimated that it will save $60 million a year in jet fuel. Bad weather would have cancelled 729 flights into Juneau last year for Alaska Airlines if it wasn’t for these precision GPS approaches.
NextGen is not without its challenges though. The system’s success relies on airlines, and operators to invest in costly avionics, ground equipment, staffing and training. Airlines are concerned with a return on investment of this equipment, given the long timeline of the NextGen implementation. Some airlines and operators are more enthusiastic than others about the NextGen plan, benefits, and implementation.
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