Air Transport World

Transformation not modernization: FAA's new future ATM initiative is looking for a few good ideas [and money to pay for them].(ATM)(air traffic management)

John Kern is surprisingly calm for a man on a mission to save an economy. Kern, director of FAA's Joint Planning and Development Office, is at the helm of the US's latest and presumably greatest attempt to jolt the curb-to-curb air transportation experience, a do-or-die manifest if the $10 trillion US economy is to remain constraint-free on the global stage.

Failure to accomplish the mission, by all accounts, will mean billions of dollars in gridlock-spawned lost productivity and unrealized economic potential in the coming decade, making JPDO documentation read like a prelude to a bad dream: "The air transportation system is at a crossroads in 2004. If its major stake-holders, public and private, do not adopt a bold strategic vision and engage in steadfast, concerted action, the system faces gridlock, unaffordability, the stifling of new technological advances ... The stark choice is between system breakdown and transformational change."

Actually, a breakdown of sorts is already in the cards, which is why FAA Administrator Marion Blakey hosted a meeting last month at which US airlines were strong-armed into reducing their schedules at Chicago O'Hare, the main chokepoint in the US ATC system (see article, p. 24).

Kern admits that JPDO, a grouping of the Dept. of Transportation, FAA, the Dept. of Homeland Security, the Commerce Dept. and the US military, is launching its assault 3-5 years too late. "The 'brick wall' is 10 years out there, when delays and cancellations begin to cost the economy tens of billions of dollars," he says. At this point, that is probably several years before any type of "transformational" change could be ready given that historically it takes about 20 years to introduce quantum changes into the system. …

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