Essay, Research Paper: US Airlines


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Deregulation of the U.S. airline industry has resulted in ticket prices dropping
by a third, on an inflation-adjusted basis. As a result some 1.6 million people
fly on 4,000 aircraft every day. Airlines carried 643 million passengers in
1998, a 25% increase over 1993 and the FAA estimates that the nations
airline system will have to accommodate 917 million passengers by the year 2008.
The growth in air travel threatens to overwhelm the presently inadequate air
traffic control system, which has not kept pace with available technology in
navigation, communications, and flight surveillance. Much of the equipment used
for air traffic control today is based on fifty-year-old technology; for
example, analog simplex voice links for communications and ground-based radar
for surveillance, and VHF Omnidirectional Range/Distance Measuring Equipment (VOR/DME)
for navigation. The lack of system automation imposes heavy workloads on human
air traffic controllers and increases the risk of accidents in heavy traffic
situations. Capacity limits are being reached in both airports and airspace,
with congestion delays in departure and arrival schedules reaching record
numbers. Funds to upgrade the air traffic control system are available in the
trust fund created to receive the tax applied to airline passenger tickets and
the tax on fuel for general aviation. The General Accounting Office says
modernizing the air traffic control system will cost at least 17 billion for
just the first 5 years of the FAAs 15-year National Airspace System
improvement plan. It is the NAS that provides the services and infrastructure
for air transportation. Air transportation represents 6% of the Nations
gross domestic product, so the NAS is a critical element of our national
economy. Given the size of the NAS, the task ahead is enormous. Our NAS includes
more than 18,300 airports, 21 air route traffic control centers, over 460 air
traffic control towers and 75 flight service stations, and approximately 4,500
air navigation facilities. The NAS spans the country, extends into the oceans,
and interfaces with neighboring air traffic control systems for international
flights. The NAS relies on approximately 30,000 FAA employees to provide air
traffic control, flight service, security, and field maintenance services. More
than 616,000 active pilots operating over 280,000 commercial, regional, general
aviation and military aircraft use the NAS. On March 11, 1999, the FAA released
the NAS Architecture Version 4.0 to the public. Key influences on the
architecture include the 1996 White House Commission on Aviation Safety and
Security, which recommended that the FAA accelerate modernization of the NAS,
and the 1997 National Civil Aviation Review Commission, which recommended
funding and performance management methods for implementing NAS modernization.
It describes the agencys modernization strategy from 1998 through 2015.
Based on the Free Flight operational concept, Version 4.0 contains capabilities,
technologies, and systems to enhance the safety of the aviation system and
provide users and service providers with more efficient services. Free Flight
centers on allowing pilots, whenever practical, to choose the optimum flight
profile. This concept of operations is expected to decrease user costs, improve
airspace flexibility, and remove flight restrictions. The NAS Architecture is
divided into three modernization phases and its implementation is being
synchronized with the International Civil Aviation Organization to ensure
interoperability and global integration. h Phase 1 (1998-2002) focuses on
sustaining essential air traffic control services and delivering early user
benefits. Free Flight Phase 1 will be implemented. Controller computer
workstations will begin major upgrades. Satellite-based navigation systems will
be deployed, and air-to-air surveillance will be introduced. The Year 2000
computer problem will hopefully be fixed. h Phase 2 (2003-2007) concentrates
on deploying the next generation of communications, navigation and surveillance
(CNS) equipment and the automation upgrades necessary to accommodate new CNS
capabilities. Satellite-based navigation systems will be further augmented in
local areas for more precise approaches. New digital radios that maximize the
spectrum channels will be installed. As users equip, automatic dependent
surveillance ground equipment will be installed to extend air traffic control
surveillance services to non-radar areas. Tools from Phase 1 will be deployed
throughout the NAS and upgraded as necessary. h Phase 3 (2008-2015) completes
the required infrastructure and integration of automation advancements with the
new CNS technologies, enabling additional Free Flight capabilities throughout
the NAS. Two important features will be NAS-wide information sharing among users
and service providers and four-dimensional flight profiles that utilize
longitudinal and lateral positions and trajectories as a function of time. The
goals for modernizing the NAS are based on improving: h Safety V such as
better weather information in the cockpit and on controller displays. h
Accessibility V such as instrument approaches to many more airports. h
Flexibility V such as allowing users to select and fly desired routes. h
Predictability V such as meeting flight schedules even in adverse weather
conditions. h Capacity V such as increasing aircraft arrival rates to
airports. h Efficiency V such as saving fuel by reducing taxing times
to/from the runways. h Security V such as controlling access to facilities
and critical information systems. The NAS Architecture is essential to the FAA
and the aviation community because it provides the most detailed guide ever for
planning operations and making NAS-related investment decisions. The Blueprint
and Version 4.0 will be updated in response to changing needs, research results,
new technology, and funding. NAS modernization involves providing new systems to
enhance capabilities and services for users. Modernization also includes making
the critical infrastructure of air traffic control services easier and more
cost-effective to operate and maintain. Critical infrastructure includes: h
Communications, navigation/landing and radar surveillance systems h Weather
detection and reporting equipment h Air traffic control computers and
displays for controllers h Power generation and backup systems h Air
traffic control facilities sustainment Here is a brief summary of key NAS
systems/capabilities and their architectural improvements: Communications
Aviation communications systems will be upgraded, integrating systems into a
seamless network using digital technology for voice and data. During the
transition, the FAA will continue to support analog voice communications. A
major improvement will be controller-pilot data link communications (CPDLC),
which introduces electronic data exchange between controllers and the cockpit
and reduces voice-channel congestion. Navigation Over the next 10 years, the
navigation system is expected to use satellites augmented by ground monitoring
stations to provide navigation signal coverage throughout the NAS. Reliance on
ground-based navigation aids is expected to decline as satellite navigation
provides equivalent levels of service. The transition to satellite-based
navigation consists of: h Use of the global positioning system (GPS) as a
supplemental system for en route navigation and non-precision approaches. h
Deployment of the wide area augmentation system (WAAS) to augment GPS for
primary means en route navigation and precision approaches. WAAS will be
deployed in stages by adding ground reference stations, with operational
capability improving in each stage. h Deployment of a local area augmentation
system (LAAS) to augment GPS for precision approaches in low visibility
conditions. Surveillance Surveillance in the future NAS will provide increased
coverage in non-radar areas and includes aircraft-to-aircraft capabilities for
greater situation awareness. The NAS Architecture calls for gradual transition
from current radar systems to digital radar and automatic dependent surveillance
(ADS). Aviation Weather The NAS Architecture contains improved ways to collect,
process, transmit, and display weather information to users and providers,
during flight planning and in flight. The goal is to give NAS providers and
users depictions of weather information and provide more weather data in the
cockpit to enhance common situation awareness. Avionics Avionics will evolve to
take advantage of new communications, navigation, and surveillance-related
technologies in the NAS Architecture, including: h New multi-mode digital
radios for voice and data communications among pilots, controllers and various
ground facilities. h Digital communications technology that increases
available voice channel capacity and provides a data link which enables
instructions, flight information services, and graphical weather data to be sent
directly to the cockpit. Free Flight Phase 1 New tools that give controllers,
planners and service operators more complete information about air traffic
control and flight operations comprise a large part of the NAS Architectures
near-term plan. Some of these tools are embodied in a program called Free Flight
Phase 1 Select Capability/Limited Deployment. The Free Flight 1 tools are: h
User request evaluation tool/core capability limited deployment (URET CCLD) V
an automated tool that assists en route controllers in identifying conflicts up
to 20 minutes in advance of their occurrence. h Traffic management advisor (TMA)
single center V an automated tool that assists en route radar controllers with
sequencing aircraft to terminal areas. h Passive final approach spacing tool
(pFAST) V an automated tool designed to work in conjunction with TMA to help
controllers assign runways and sequence aircraft according to user preferences
and airport capacity. h Collaborative decision-making (CDM) V a real-time
exchange of flight plan and system constraints data between the FAA and airline
operations centers in order to work collaboratively to better manage NAS
traffic. h Surface movement advisor (SMA) V a system that provides
information sharing to airline and airport personnel who plan and manage the
sequence of taxi out and plan for arrivals in the ramp and gate areas at larger
airports. Automation Infrastructure Free Flight Phase 1 tools and other future
tools depend on infrastructure improvements already underway, such as the
display system replacement (DSR), standard terminal automation replacement
system (STARS) and host/oceanic computer system replacement (HOCSR), to operate.
DSR provides new controller workstations and a network infrastructure for the
air route traffic control centers (ARTCC). DSR has the capability to show
weather data from the next generation weather radar. STARS is the new terminal
workstation that will interface with the new sequencing and spacing tools and
the advanced communications, navigation, surveillance and weather systems. HOCSR
replaces the host and oceanic processors and peripherals at the ARTCCs to solve
immediate hardware supportability problems. Since the early 1980s, efforts by
the FAA to modernize the air traffic control system have experienced lengthy
schedule delays and substantial cost overruns. There is a belief held by many
that the above procurement and personnel reforms, while useful, are not likely
to change the FAAs bureaucratic corporate culture. And they do not address
the inherent problems of the ATC system being part of the federal budget
process, subject to external micromanagement, and subject to a conflict of
interest between safety regulation and ATC operations. They believe the United
States should follow the example of Britain, Germany, Switzerland and most
recently, Canada, in fundamentally restructuring air traffic control. It is
their opinion that a not-for-profit user-controlled, user-funded corporation is
the best way to address the ATC systems fundamental problems. We find
ourselves with a system that currently runs on obsolete and failure-prone
equipment such as 1960s mainframe computers, equipment dependent on vacuum
tubes, and radar between twenty and thirty years old. The FAA maintains safety
margins by artificially increasing the spacing between flights, imposing ground
holds and using other techniques that reduce system capacity. The airlines alone
waste $3 billion a year in fuel and crew time due to the delays. Wasted
passenger time is estimated at several billion dollars more. The FAAs
National Airspace System Architecture Version 4.0 looks very impressive on
paper, but given their track record in regards to modernization, maybe we should
be looking at alternatives to a thinly stretched bureaucracy.

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