ATC controllers also provide vital information and support to aircraft pilots, such as revisions to flight orders and weather warnings.
The Proposal: Free Flight
Currently, the US is exploring a significant transformation in the format of its ATC system, with free flight proposed to begin operation within the next decade. The US expects the FAA's NextGen ATC communication and surveillance program to be installed successfully in commercial aircraft by 2025.
The concept of the NextGen free flight equipment is the idea of scrapping centralized air traffic control and primary reliance on controllers, replacing them with reserved airspace via computer communication to aveve safe aircraft separation. The program will replace traditional ATC radar systems with a satellite-based technology similar to GPS technology seen in cars.
The key notification of free flight is that ultimate responsibility for the aircraft and flight lies with the pilot. This development ATC method decentralizes control, replacing it with distributed, computer-based communication to ensure that aircraft remain in their flight space throughout each journey.
The role of ATC controllers is recognized as one of today's most stressful jobs, with the pressure of guiding simultaneous flights through one airspace in safety an integral part of the role. With this in mind, to what extent will a flight's fate rest on a computer system?
The introduction of a large automated ATC system is unilaterally to negate the need for controllers alike, instead of heavily supporting them with the cupply of integrated information management- with controllers expected to become system managers, intervening manually to make more complex decisions and changes when necessary.
The flight plans of many commercial airlines are already heavily aided by specialized software, calculating fuel, cost and distance to plan the most economical route for a journey, while considering unforeseen circumstances such as diversions from ATC controllers and changes in landing location.
The FAA plan to introduce the NextGen program with caution, installing it at smaller airports until its safety has been demonstrated – this approach has been referred to as an "off-broadway introduction" by the FAA.
One of NextGen's main advantages is that it will negate the need for pilots to take indirect flight routes to remain within the radar range of an airport. The technology will deliver continuous real-time information to ATC controllers and pilots with impressive accuracy.
One major vulnerability of NextGen is the requirement for immediate backup in the event of GPS failure. A system failure can leave the pilot with no flight navigation information, potentially creating an ATC disaster. Current rules of GPS aircraft operations state that a backup method of flight control must be available in case of GPS interrupts.
With huge air traffic congestion problems causing disruption to flights across the US and even larger estimated annual expenditure, general opinion seems to be that NextGen is long overdue. The ATC industry is no doubt on the brink of a shake-up, but the USA is almost ready to guide it into the future.
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