Air Transport World

Working the details.(Free Flight air traffic management system)

Consensus-building and consultation have advanced Free Flight technology but completion of the job remains years away

From the middle distance, Free Flight as viewed several years ago was an obviously defined goal. Now, however, the view is less well-defined.

This lack of clarity is due not to any failures of the process but in fact the opposite. FAA and the US user community are drawing closer to the original objective, and its very nearness-and the adoption and use of some leading-edge elements of the complex suite of Air Traffic Management innovations that will allow Free Flight to happen--means that the forest is no longer visible for we are among the trees.

Although some benefits of the modernization leading toward Free Flight are being realized today, most still are to be achieved. Indeed, the industry is paying a cost for some of the ATM system upgrades, as airlines discovered this summer dealing with the combined effects of FAA's Display System Replacement program and bad weather. The DSR is one of the bedrock infrastructure components upon which Free Flight depends, but airlines were too unhappy dealing with today's problems to enjoy the prospect of tomorrow's benefits.

The user community in general is satisfied with the progress being made toward the new Air Traffic Management paradigm. This contented mind frame should not be interpreted to mean that the process is nearing its end. Far from it. In fact, the people in charge of the key technology efforts that are the critical building blocks of the Future Air Navigation System structure, the key "enablers" of Free Flight, will not hazard a guess as to when even the components will be 100% available, not to mention predicting final achievement of the ultimate Free Flight goal.

Asked when the Wide Area Augmentation System, the supplemental system that guarantees and sharpens the accuracy of GPS guidance, would blanket the Us, Shelly Myers, director of Communications, Navigation and Surveillance systems, says, "I don't know the answer to that; there's just too many variables," Asked when a fully realized free flight environment would be operational in the US, Charlie Keegan, Director of the Free Flight Phase One Program office, says, "I don't think anyone knows or would target a guess since there are so many other factors that weigh into it. …

Log in to your account to read this article – and millions more.