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The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 has changed the face (and faces) of air travel from the Government controlling the routes each airline flew and overseeing the prices they charged to today’s market-driven industry, where customer demand determines the levels of service and price. After deregulation, millions of Americans began to fly for the first time and continue to do so today.
However, crowded airports, overbooked flights, and delayed flights have travelers believing that our nation’s air transport system is not functioning very well. When in reality, it is evidence of how well deregulation has worked to substantially lower fares, provide better passenger service, and provide passengers with more flight options. Today, airplanes are fuller than in the past, which slows down boarding and deplaning times, and provides a perception of lower quality service by reducing empty space. Other problems passengers may experience are likely due to airport congestion, and not deregulation.
Airline deregulation has been a success, and some people believe that additional deregulatory policies may further the gains. The Federal Government still owns, manages, or regulates the air traffic control system, airport facilities, and foreign carriers’ access to U.S. routes. It seemed that further deregulation might be the answer, particularly at the airport level with improved access to landing slots at airports and for privatizing air traffic control to better manage the increased volumes. However, after the events of September 11, 2001, this may no longer be a viable option.
The Government understands that aviation is a driving force in America’s economic growth and that our air traffic system must be able to meet future demands in order to accommodate changing business models or the cost to our nation will be dramatic. The Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO), a mulit-agency organization has developed the vision and is building partnerships for the successful implementation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). This is much more than just a vision. The FAA has taken this vision and developed the NextGen Implementation Plan that provides funding and attainable goals for leveraging technologies that already exist. The vision for NextGen is a system that is based on satellite navigation and control, digital non-voice communication, and advanced networking. It will shift decision making from the ground to the cockpit and provide flight crews with increased control over their flight trajectories.
Two major contracts have already been awarded that will reshape the nation’s air traffic control system. The first contract worth as much as $1.8 billion over 18 years was awarded to ITT to develop the agency’s new Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast System in a partnership with XM Satellite Radio. The tool uses location and navigation data provided by a Global Positioning System (GPS) network of satellites to update air traffic controllers every second, compared to every six seconds under the current radar-based system. GPS units in airplane cockpits will broadcast and receive location data so pilots can avoid collisions. The second, a 10-year, $437 million contract, was awarded to Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Mass., to support air traffic controller training. This contact will replace two agreements about to expire for initial training with one vendor and in-the-field training with another. The belief that consolidating the contracts would make it easier to adjust training methods for younger employees and new systems by updating training continuously, even after controllers are out in the field. It is expected that this will shorten training time. Under the new contract, Raytheon will be responsible for managing and updating the materials used in controller courses, supporting classroom instruction and simulator training in the field, and providing administrative support for FAA. The agency will maintain control of content and verifying controllers’ aptitude.
The next installment of the NextGen Implementation Plan is scheduled to be published in January 2009 and it will be exciting to see what is next on the horizon for our aviation system.
By: Angela Williamson
“The contents of this message are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the Government or my agency.”