Shorter wait times for takeoff, fewer delays and getting to your destination faster. Those are some of the benefits federal officials say passengers flying out of Charlotte Douglas could enjoy by next year thanks to a $32 billion effort to modernize air transportation systems.
NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration are collaborating on new technologies that aim to reduce ground congestion in the nation’s airports. Other goals include saving fuel and reducing carbon emissions, according to officials.
The new technology will be rolled out of Charlotte by September next year, Shawn Engelland, a NASA manager, told reporters Friday at Charlotte Douglas.
Under the current system, there’s less certainty about which plane should take off and when, so air traffic controllers are more cautious and conservative. This can mean more delays and waiting.
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To solve this problem, NASA and the FAA developed a new technology, as part of their joint project called Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen. The new software automates some of parts of traffic control and information exchange, decreasing uncertainty and improving predictability. This reduces delays and wait times, said Engelland.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said technologies being developed under the NextGen project would not only save time for passengers but would also reduce burning of fuel, benefiting the environment. “We’re looking to integrate faster travel times in the air with fewer delays on the ground,” said Foxx, the former Charlotte mayor.
NASA administrator Charles Bolden said such technologies have the potential to save $255 billion and reduce carbon emissions by 900 million tons over a 25 year period.
The estimated $32 billion cost over 23 years includes about $17 billion in federal costs and about $15 billion in private-sector costs, mostly involving equipment for airlines, the FAA said.
Some other technologies from the NextGen project are already being implemented in Charlotte. A text based messaging system called DataComm, which replaces voice communications between air traffic controllers and cockpits is in use in some planes from Charlotte, the FAA said. The switch to text communication instead of voice would reduce communication times and misinterpretations, according to officials.
Friday’s ceremony showed even Cabinet officials aren’t immune from airport congestion. Foxx, who arrived half an hour late, said airport backups in Washington had delayed him. That’s just the kind of congestion the new technology is designed to solve, he said, adding that he looks forward to seeing it deployed in Charlotte. “Then I hopefully won’t be late the next time.”