The Obama administration and want to provide $80 million to the airline industry between fiscal 2013 and 2018 to help equip at least 1,900 aircraft for data communications with air traffic management, a key component of the satellite-based NextGen air traffic control system.
According to the FAA, the administration’s budget proposal for fiscal 2013 includes money for a $4 million contract award for its data communications program to guarantee equipage with NextGen-enabled avionics. The request for proposals for that contract states that the prime contractor will have to create a plan to equip a minimum of 1,900 aircraft, it adds.
The FAA says its data communications program plans to make available $80 million from 2013 to 2018 as “an incentive to get the industry to equip.”
Current U.S. air traffic control (ATC) systems depend on voice communications to relay a wide array of critical information between air crews and controllers, a procedure that is labor intensive, time-consuming and “limits the ability of the national airspace system to effectively meet future traffic demand,” says the FAA. To resolve this, the FAA’s modernization plan wants data communications to assume an ever-increasing role in air traffic control, ground management and flight crew communications.
“Data communications will support the NextGen vision by providing data transmissions directly to pilots and their flight management systems, enabling more efficient operations, including trajectory-based routing that evolves air traffic from short-term tactical control to managing flights strategically gate-to-gate,” the FAA says.
The addition of any equipage money in the budget—and in the FAA’s future plans—is another sign that the industry’s push for more NextGen support from the administration has gathered some steam.
Most of the equipage money, however, still will need to come from elsewhere. The FAA reauthorization just passed by Congress and signed by the president authorizes and envisions public-private partnerships that would “leverage and maximize the use of private sector capital” to help airlines pay for all of the NextGen-related avionics equipment needed on the aircraft.
The Obama administration is proposing to spend just over $1 billion on NextGen-related ATC projects in fiscal 2103, 11% more than in fiscal 2012.
In unveiling the 2013 budget blueprint on Feb. 13, Obama also included a renewed call for Congress to approve $50 billion in “immediate transportation investments” for fiscal 2012. That $50 billion, which Obama proposed last year as part of the American Jobs Act, includes $1 billion for NextGen, $225 million of which would be for a new air traffic control “facility for the future” in the New York area.
The U.S. Transportation Department says the facility will “fully leverage NextGen capabilities to improve traffic flow, ensure user community cost savings, reduce the environmental impact of aviation and reduce operating costs.”
Details on that facility, though, are difficult to come by. The FAA says it is “premature” to talk more specifically about what the facility will entail, and though a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey says the agency “welcomes any commitment from the federal government,” it notes that “we await details on this funding.”