10:32 PM

What do Cell Towers
Have to do With ATC?

A recently Popular Mechanics story by Barbara Peterson is worth a read, as it spells out some of the things that FAA is planning:

The Federal Aviation Administration recently awarded a $1.8 billion contract to ITT Corporation to lay the groundwork for NextGen, an overhaul of the country’s overloaded air traffic control system from aging radar towers to GPS that would use real time to pack in the sky without sacrificing safety. One of the reasons for ITT’s surprise win—it beat out aviation heavyweights Lockheed Martin and Raytheon—was its partnership with AT&T, which will lend hundreds of cell towers to anchor the new surveillance technology for tracking planes in the air.
The extensive story says that "the new team behind America’s air traffic control overhaul hopes to have AT&T cell towers come to the rescue". All fine and good, at least at first glance. But as usual, reality always bites back:
Skeptics note that the FAA’s new air traffic control system fails to address both the tendency of airlines to overschedule flights during peak hours and the looming shortage of air traffic controllers—many who replaced striking workers in 1981 are facing mandatory retirement. Doug Church, an official with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, says that while his organization welcomes technological advances, he’s concerned that NextGen not be viewed as a panacea. “An airport can still only handle so many flights,” he says. “What we need is more concrete on the ground” in the form of new runways and airfields, he says.
Duh. This Nextgen planning is just more of the same kind of Washington wisdom that brought is Iraq, the post-Katrina embarrassment and the current sub-prime mortgage meltdown. And one commenter on the PM site really nails it IMHO:
If you are landing aircraft at the maximum airport acceptance rate, which we are all over the country, how does having more aircraft arrive during that hour help? All it does is make them get to their holding pattern quicker. "NexGen" is just a scam so that corporations can get billions of dollar contracts and then the people who gave them those contracts get nice cushy jobs from said corporations.
Ouch...but one name I can quickly think of indicates that poster might be right on: Marion Blakey.

As usual with anything Popular Mechanics reports, there is far more depth then what the main story offers available here...all of it excellent writing that deserves your attention.

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