Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Precision Approach

Air Traffic: Boeing launches satellite air-traffic pitch.

Air travel delays are bad and promise to get worse; the Federal Aviation Administration’s current “build a little, test a little” strategy for air traffic control modernization isn’t expected to keep pace with exploding long-term passenger demand. Now Boeing is throwing its corporate might behind a more ambitious technological overhaul: a new air traffic control infrastructure based on satellite tracking rather than radar. Boeing CEO Philip M. Condit first floated the idea in January; the company plans to publicly flesh out the details this month.

In theory, tools based on satellite-derived Global Positioning System data can increase air traffic capacity, says Carl McCullough, an FAA director. “The really precise information that only GPS can give you allows reduced separation between aircraft and more direct routes,” he says. And the FAA is building a nationwide system for refining and verifying GPS signals to allow satellite-based instrument approaches at thousands of small and medium-sized airports.

Satellite-based air traffic control is already being used in places as far-flung as Australia, Mongolia and parts of Alaska-regions with little or no radar coverage. In addition, the air cargo industry is testing satellite tools and datalinks to speed overnight sorting operations by compressing takeoffs and landings.

This story is part of our May 2001 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

But around congested cities, satellite information and aircraft datalinks can’t be relied upon for collision avoidance and spacing unless every airplane-from jumbo jet to Cessna-is retrofitted with relatively expensive new gear. Even then, the advantages over radar at busy airports aren’t evident, says Raymond LaFrey, manager of air traffic control programs at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, MA, which does research for the FAA. “I’m sort of puzzled by this announcement,” LaFrey says. “Phil Condit is a very savvy guy, and he’s a good plane builder. But I don’t know what they are thinking of, and I don’t think anyone else does, either.”

However, Joe Platzner, a Boeing air-traffic management director, says the aerospace giant is “committed to spending a lot of money, a lot of people, a lot of research and a lot of engineering effort to make sure the system will have the capability, safety, and affordability we need.” Platzner says the company’s first job is to make air-traffic overhaul “a public policy priority.” After that, the solutions will require more organization than innovation. “The more important thing,” Platzner says, “is taking technology that exists, and doing large-scale system integration.”

Cut off? Read unlimited articles today.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Print Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.