What is NextGen and Why Do We Need It?

One of my recent weekly columns for ABCNews.com focused on NextGen which could open up a whole new era of flight for all of us. Consider this a progress report of sorts: While some aspects of this wide-ranging program have been implemented, there is so much more to go – but believe me, it’s worth it.

Listen as Rick Seaney tells editor Anne McDermott, “It’s way past time for a change.”

NextGen – What It Is, Why We Need It

Q. What is NextGen?

A. NextGen is short for Next Generation Air Transportation System. It will replacethe current horse-and-buggy set-up we currently struggle with that uses radar technology with a modern, satellite-based air traffic control system.

The U.S. isn’t alone in recognizing the need for change; Europe is going forward with Single European Sky, its own sweeping air travel modernization plan.

For something really different – stewardesses of yesterday

Q. What are some of the advantages of NextGen?

A. GPS, for one, and isn’t it time we had an air traffic control system every bit as up to date as our smartphones? A Global Positioning System would allow air traffic controllers to determine the precise location of a plane, and as many of you know, the FAA currently requires planes “stay three miles apart in the sky” which can create big hassles during unpredictable weather or other tricky situations and that spells D-E-L-A-Y-S.

Q You mean NextGen would mean more on-time flights?

A. Put it this way: the FAA predicts NextGen could reduce flight delays by a whopping 35% because air traffic controllers would be able to put planes on more direct, more efficient and safer routes and put more of them in the sky. The prediction could be fulfilled by 2018 – just a short five years away – but there are obstacles.

Take a trip on an air travel Time Machine

Q. What are the obstacles?

A. The usual – money and politics. NextGen is not cheap; I’ve seen estimates running as high as $100 billion-plus but the benefits are obvious including fuel savings.

Q. Where do fuel savings come in?

A. Consider that Denver International has just implemented new NextGen arrival and departure procedures which, as the Denver Post points out, allows planes to land “using a smooth, continuous descent versus the traditional stair-step approach.” That alone can save airlines as much as 800 pounds of fuel each flight and Denver has 1,700 flights a day. Now think of all the flights at all the airports in the U.S. and you are talking millions and millions of dollars in fuel savings.

More from Rick Seaney:

4 Reasons Why NextGen is the Best Thing since Free Bags

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Published: May 30, 2013