By William Demarest
February 2, 2011
Nearly 1,000 flight delays a year at Westchester County Airport and Stewart International Airport could be eliminated through a measure introduced in the U.S. Senate today to approve a new national air traffic control system that uses GPS technology, according to Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY.
Schumer said he believes it is possible that the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization bill, which got tied up in late 2010 with several unrelated political battles, could clear the Senate in about two weeks. If approved by the House, Schumer said he believes the new system could start hitting airports within two years.
“We have an outdated air traffic control system that is responsible for a lot of the delays at our airports,” Schumer said in a noon conference call with reporters. “We still use ground-based radar. Every other country is using global positioning system technology.”
Schumer said he finds it ironic that the rest of the world is using technology that was developed in the United States – some of it even developed in New York – but that American air travelers have not seen the benefit of that technology at U.S. airports.
Schumer said the bill calls for the release of funding that is already in place for new “NextGen Initiative” air traffic control systems. He said the money exists through ticket fees that are already in place.
In addition to making air traffic more convenient, Schumer said the NextGen Initiative will make air traffic safer and could help boost the economy throughout New York.
“New York businesses and communities are missing out on opportunities for economic development because of an outdated air traffic control system that results in planes stuck on the runway, missed meetings, and canceled trips,” said Schumer. “This FAA bill will help to change all of that, updating air traffic control systems to include state of the art GPS technology that will reduce maddening flight delays by over 20 percent. The new system will mean safer skies, more on time departures, more on time arrivals, and a big boost to tourism and business across Upstate New York.”
Schumer said the NextGen Initiative is a nationwide project designed to update the National Airspace System from a ground-based system of air traffic control to a satellite-based system utilizing GPS technology. Created in 2004 by former Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, Schumer said the program was designed to combat the problems associated with an air traffic control system based on outdated radar technology, voice communications and poor weather forecasting.
NextGen will also incorporate the latest in weather forecasting and digital communications technology to allow pilots and air traffic controllers to react more quickly to changing flight conditions, Schumer said.
Schumer said the NextGen Initiative is expected to reduce delays by more than 22,000 – 22 percent – throughout all of New York’s airports.
Here’s the local impact:
Westchester County Airport: 772 fewer delays.
Stewart International Airport (Newburgh): 144 fewer delays.
John F. Kennedy International Airport: 9,203 fewer delays.
LaGuardia International Airport: 7,223 fewer delays.
Long Island MacArthur Airport (Islip): 548 fewer delays.
Schumer said the FAA legislation also includes $8 billion in airport improvement grants to help modernize and expand aging airports.
Last year, the FAA legislation stalled over the allocation of air terminal slots at National Airport in Washington, DC, and a measure for the unionization of Federal Express workers. Schumer said those issues are no longer involved with the FAA legislation.
Schumer said the air traffic control improvements come just after President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address called for investments in technology to help make the nation more competitive in the global economy.
“Unfortunately, most of our transportation infrastructure is out of date and unable to meet the needs of 21century commerce,” Schumer said.
Schumer noted that while many Americans believe the nation’s air travel problems are mostly at large airports, the outdated air traffic control system affects all air travelers. “What happens at one airport affects all the other airports,” Schumer said.
Schumer also said NextGen will also reduce the environmental impact of increased air traffic by allowing more efficient and direct routes. He said NextGen will save fuel and reduce pollution, as well as reduce noise pollution in communities close to airports.