By Kyle Hightower
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) The acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday that the increased implementation of GPS-based air traffic control technology at airports in Florida gives him confidence about the project’s long-term rollout.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and representatives from JetBlue Airways outlined the latest developments for the modernized system known as NextGen, which will move air carriers and airports away from the outdated radar-based system.
The FAA’s Metroplex initiative is collaborating with JetBlue and other airlines to expand the implementation of the new system in eight areas around the country. In Florida, the initiative covers the state’s three busiest airports in Orlando, Tampa and Miami, as well as Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Fort Myers. There are also nine smaller satellite airports in the Florida initiative.
“We are embarking on a major transformation of our airspace all around the country,” Huerta told the assembled group of Orlando airport and local government officials. “We operate the largest and safest air transportation system in the world, and we’re always looking for ways to improve upon that.”
Unlike the radar system, which tracks aircraft in a six-second delay, NextGen operates in real time. It offers air traffic controllers the ability to see through terrain and with more precision, Huerta said.
JetBlue officials showed NextGen in action Thursday via flight simulators located at its facility near Orlando International Airport.
The FAA plans to spend $2.4 billion over the next five years. The project is expected to reduce delays and save taxpayers an estimated $24 billion.
Savings nationwide for NextGen’s 2025 full implementation plan are contingent upon both long-term funding and optimization to allow them to analyze and identify any issues. But more delays are possible if Congress doesn’t avert automatic budget cuts set to go into effect in January 2013.
The FAA estimates that in Florida alone, NextGen could save eight million gallons of fuel annually with planes flying more direct routes, and in turn reduce carbon emissions by nearly 80,000 metric tons with $23 million saved in fuel costs. In all, planes could flight 5.4 million fewer nautical miles.
“We’ve had a lot of support by both Congress and the administration,” Huerta said. “We expect that is going to continue. Aviation contributes $1.3 trillion to the economy, that’s 10 million jobs for the industry. So it’s a huge enabler for the economy.”
Busy airports in northern and southern California, as well as Atlanta and Washington, D.C., are also part of the first group implementing NextGen. But delays in establishing overall costs have pushed completion of the program back several months.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said improvement in air travel efficiency is always something that resonates with tourists.
Huerta said he expects the Florida airports currently using NextGen on a limited basis to have fully made the switch in the next three years.
New York-based JetBlue Airways CEO Dave Barger said he expects to see New York start incorporating NextGen soon.
“From a Florida perspective, it’s music to our ears,” Barger said. “And then we can start to take some of the lessons learned into New York. People will say, ‘well New York is much more congested.’ Florida is very complicated as well.”