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CENTRAL VIEW for Monday, September 3, 2007

by William Hamilton, Ph.D.

Had enough flight delays? There is a solution.

Those who have experienced the frustration of flight delays over Labor Day know full well that our nation’s air transportation system needs modernization and the airlines need better management.

Fortunately, General Aviation (from Piper Cubs to bizjets) is proposing that Congress pay for modernization by increasing the federal tax on aviation gasoline by 25-percent and increase the tax on jet fuel by 41-percent. The Office of Management and Budget says this proposal, included in H.R. 2881, provides the funding for FAA operations and for the next generation of air traffic control which General Aviation hopes will be an upgraded version of GPS, called ADS-B.

When Phil Boyer became president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) he predicted the satellite-based Global Positioning System (GPS) would become so useful in so many ways to so many people that the initials “GPS” would no longer require explanation. Today, GPS is found in automobiles, in some cell phones, and is used by hunters, hikers, fishermen, boaters, surveyors and even real estate agents.

Sixteen years later, about 80-percent of General Aviation aircraft are navigating with GPS while the Airlines, citing their previous financial investments in ground-based navigation systems, have been slow to embrace the satellite-based GPS.

Now, General Aviation is taking the lead in supporting a test of the satellite-based ADS-B system in Alaska. Already, ADS-B has reduced Alaskan aircraft fatalities by 40-percent. If the history of GPS is any indication, the initials, ADS-B, will become, well, household initials.

Currently, GPS allows only the pilot to know his or her own location. ADS-B equipped aircraft will give pilots, not only their own locations with GPS precision, but, in addition, all nearby aircraft with know each others’ precise locations. Plus, all of the aircraft will have real-time weather data displayed in their cockpits.

The FAA, however, may see the advent of ADS-B as a “rice bowl” issue. If everything to be known about the aircraft in our airspace is instantly known to all of the aircraft in our airspace, do we really need the huge and expensive FAA bureaucracy for air traffic control? The short answer is “maybe.” But certainly for the mere 400 airports that have commercial service.

Outside of those congested areas, we have plenty of sky through which General Aviation aircraft equipped with ADS-B can fly directly to America’s some 13,000 privately-owned landing sites or to some 5,200 non-commercial airports in all kinds of weather and without running into each other.

Fortunately, the FAA has just agreed to a $1.8 billion contract with ITT Corporation to build and operate a prototype ADS-B system. Unlike previous FAA contracts, ITT will own the system. That offers hope of more private-sector energy, and less FAA inertia.

Meanwhile, the Airlines, which were slow to adopt GPS, continue to blame other factors for their problems. For example:

Blame the weather: Forty-percent of aviation delays are weather-related, so give the Airlines a point on that one.

Blame a computer: If they can afford lavish executive salaries, can’t the Airlines afford some back-up computers?

Blame a lack of runways: Instead of scheduling arrivals and departures across the clock, most Airlines insist on cramming their flights into the morning and evening “rush” hours. Take aim. Shoot own foot.

Blame your own pilots. Maybe, pilots, mechanics and flight attendants would work better if the major carriers would follow the model of Southwest Airlines and treat them better.

Blame General Aviation aircraft: That excuse doesn’t work because, at the ten busiest commercial-service airports, small aircraft make up less than four-percent of the traffic.

Fortunately, H.R. 2881 can raise enough money to fund FAA modernization without imposing the costly-to-collect “user fees” that have virtually destroyed General Aviation outside the United States. If the Airlines will give their support to H.R. 2881, we can begin to unravel the knotty problem of aviation delays.

William Hamilton is a nationally syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today. Writing with his wife as William Penn, he is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy -- two novels about terrorist attacks against the United States. Although Dr. Hamilton works, part-time, for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the views expressed above are not, necessarily, those of AOPA.

©2007. William Hamilton.

©1999-2024. American Press Syndicate.

Dr. Hamilton can be contacted at:


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