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MONDAY BUSINESS : TRAVEL BRIEFCASE

Funding's iffy for GPS upgrade to air control

July 01, 2013|Hugo Martin
  • The FAA says the U.S. air traffic control system needs a technological overhaul to reduce delays and fuel use. Above, air traffic controllers at LAX in 2007.
The FAA says the U.S. air traffic control system needs a technological overhaul… (Los Angeles Times )

Air travel in the future will be faster, cleaner and less expensive if the Federal Aviation Administration's $40-billion overhaul of the nation's air control system is completed.

That's a big if.

With the federal sequestration fight in Washington, FAA officials say funding for the seven-year project could be in jeopardy.

The plan, known as NextGen, replaces outdated radar-based technology with global positioning systems and digital communications to modernize the country's air control system.

By allowing pilots to fly more direct routes and giving air traffic controllers more accurate and up-to-date information, the system is expected to cut airline delays 41% by 2020, compared with the delays without NextGen, according to a new report by the FAA.

The efficiencies in the system are also forecasted to save 1.6 billion gallons of fuel and cut 16 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, with $38 billion in cumulative benefits to airlines, the public and the FAA, the report said.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, July 03, 2013 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 55 words Type of Material: Correction
Lost luggage: In the July 1 Section A, a Monday Business article about devices that are sold to prevent airlines from losing luggage said that U.S.-based carriers lose or mishandle luggage at a rate of about 3 bags for every 100,000 passengers. The rate is about 3 for every 1,000 passengers, according to federal statistics.

A key component of the system is that air traffic controllers using GPS will get more precise information on planes' locations and speeds, allowing controllers to better manage the 7,000 or so planes in the air at any given time, according to the FAA. Because the current radar system is slower and less precise, controllers must add a bigger safety cushion of separation between planes.

In a recent speech, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta slammed lawmakers for failing to reach an agreement on future spending plans.

"Because of the financial uncertainty, we can hope for the best, but we have to plan for the worst," he said. "This is not a sustainable course of action, and it's no way to run a government."

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For the Wi-fliers in the audience

Good news for Internet junkies who fly out of Los Angeles International Airport: You've got plenty of flights equipped with wireless Internet to choose from.

Fliers departing from LAX to San Francisco International Airport or John F. Kennedy International Airport have the greatest number of daily domestic flight offering Wi-Fi, according to a new study by the travel site Routehappy.com.

Between LAX and San Francisco, fliers can choose from 31 daily flights that offer Wi-Fi, the study found. Between LAX and JFK, air travelers can pick 27 daily flights with Wi-Fi service, according to the study.

"Wi-Fi is not going away," said John Walton, director of data for Routehappy.com. "Passengers want it and will pay for it."

Overall, 38% of the domestic flights in the U.S. offer Wi-Fi, a number that has been growing 5% to 7% a year, he said. But the rate will likely surge as more airlines install satellite-based Wi-Fi on more of their fleet, Walton said.

"In the next quarter, I imagine we will see a situation where satellite Wi-Fi should be rolling out in big numbers," he said.

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Lost bag? Here's an app for that

Airlines in the U.S. lose or damage about 140,000 bags a month, or about three for every 100,000 passengers.

It's a relatively small loss rate. Still, several companies hope to capitalize on the frustration travelers feel waiting by the baggage carousel only to realize their luggage didn't make it onto their flight.

Next week, Los Angeles company GlobaTrac plans to begin shipping a palm-sized device that travelers can toss into their bags to track luggage via the Internet or a smartphone app. The device, called Trakdot, sells for $50, plus fees.

Meanwhile, European aerospace company Airbus announced last month that it is producing luggage with built-in technology that allows passengers to track their bags. The luggage even includes a built-in scale to tell whether it is exceeding the maximum weight limits.

No word on the cost, but Airbus is reportedly considering letting airlines rent the bags to passengers.

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hugo.martin@latimes.com

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