US air traffic control system takes narrow route to improvement

US air traffic control system takes narrow route to improvement

Washington: At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Delta Air Lines, Inc. jets take off an average of 10 minutes after pushing back from the gate—three minutes faster than in previous years.

Thanks to new technology, planes take off following a narrow route, so jets right behind them taking different routes do not have to wait as long.

Delta—and also Alaska Airlines and UPS Airlines—is demonstrating the possible future of the US' air traffic system, hinting at what aviation might be like—if the airlines and the federal government can get the details worked out.

All three airlines use refinements based on the constellation of global positioning system (GPS) satellites. Many of these save at most a few minutes. But, in a crowded system plagued by delays, that may be enough to help smooth out bottlenecks. The carriers’ use of satellite navigation and other tools and techniques represents a step towards replacing a 50-year-old system of radar and radio beacons.

In the process, they are pulling along the slow-moving federal aviation administration (FAA), which is eager for better air traffic control systems, but short on money. Previously, FAA bought new systems on the ground, and told airlines to equip themselves to use these; now airlines are taking the initiative to outfit planes with safety regulation from FAA.

Airlines are even developing their own approach patterns for airports, which has almost always been a government job. UPS is developing a landing pattern based on separating planes by time, not distance, so they land at the briefest safe interval. “We're going to create the future, because we think we know where it's going to go," said Karen Lee, director of operations at UPS.