FAA Reauthorization Essay….

March 22, 2010 The Senate unanimously passed an FAA reauthorization bill.  The bill promises appropriations that support the modernization of the air traffic system.  Last year, the House passed a version of FAA reauthorization so the two will go to committee before being presented to the President for finalization.

Currently, the National Airspace System  (NAS) is using antiquated air traffic equipment utilizing ground based navigational aids.  The Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) upgrade proposes a switch to satellite based navigation in hopes of reducing delays and increasing capacity of the system to accommodate the estimated number of increasing flights.  The Federal Aviation Administration is anticipating airspace capacity to increase to one billion passengers by 2015 and to double current levels by 2025 (faa.gov).

The FAA is testing and in some places has begun using ADS-B, Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast.  ADS-B is a satellite based form of navigation that allows each aircraft with the proper equipment to identify other aircraft call signs, position, and speeds (faa.gov).  This system provides once per second updates on broadcast information (faa.gov).  Testing and deployment in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico have been successful showing a 40 percent decline in general aviation accidents in areas of low or no radar coverage (faa.gov).  Other aspects of NextGen being tested are Continuous Descent Approaches or CDA.  CDAs are designed to reduce noise levels in congested areas and save fuel for air carriers (faa.gov).  Required Navigation Performance or RNP is proposed to increase navigation precision for aircraft allowing a reduction in spacing and an increase in capacity (faa.gov).  Another element of the NextGen process is Safety Management System or SMS.  SMS is a more pro-active and less reactionary approach to considering post accident data and integrated analysis increasing the safety of the system (faa.gov).

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association has been a key supporter of modernizing the system and recognizes the growing concerns for safety.  With a new administration in the White House and a contract between the FAA and the Air Traffic Controllers, NATCA is working on collaboration and accountability with the FAA for impact and implementation of new systems and facility realignment.  NATCA is also pleased that Congress is recognizing the air traffic controllers as a key component of the NAS and that the controllers are in fact crucial subject matter experts (natca.org).

The bill also addresses changes to title 49, United States Code that establishes a fair collective bargaining process in the event of any contract disputes between the FAA and NATCA and prevents the FAA from manipulating the law to unilaterally impose work rules and pay changes (NATCA.org).  This is possibly the most critical element to the bill to the air traffic controllers.  September 3, 2006, the FAA imposed work rules and cut controller pay by thirty percent for new hires into the Agency.  This in turn forced the controllers to decline any participation in upgrades, changes, or to provide any input.  The FAA manipulated it’s reports and promises to Congress to say that the Union was in agreement throughout that time period until the controllers were finally able to collectively bargain and ratify a contract.  The title 49 language proposes a fair dispute resolution process for contract negotiations meaning, if the parties reach impasse, both parties proposals will be sent to mediation seeking impartial dispute resolution ultimately resulting in binding arbitration (natca.org).

Human Factors in air traffic control such as staffing, training, fatigue, and technological usability issues are also part of NextGen (Natca.org).

Works Cited

“Fact Sheet.” FAA: Home. Web. 07 Apr. 2010. <http://www.faa.gov/news/fact_sheets/news_story.cfm?newsId=8336>.

“NATCA | Legislative Center.” National Air Traffic Controllers Association. Web. 07 Apr. 2010. <http://www.natca.org/legislationcenter/testimony-detail.aspx?id=231>.

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