United States Seeks Global Harmonization of Air Traffic Control

By Andrzej Zwaniecki
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - Air traffic management systems of the near future must ensure that aircraft moving around the world do so safely and with few delays as air transportation continues to grow, says the head of the U.S. civil aviation regulator.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Marion Blakey said February 20 that air traffic in the United States and other developed markets is at the “saturation point” and skies are likely to get only busier with projected increases in air travel.

In an address to the Royal Aeronautical Society in London, she said the United States and the European Union (EU), the two largest air transportation markets in the world, are trying to meet the challenge by developing their own advanced air traffic management systems – the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) and the Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research (SESAR) program.

Blakey said, however, that unless the two parties move in harmony, making sure that these systems are interoperable, management of international air traffic is unlikely to measure up to the growing needs of civil aviation.

“If NextGen and SESAR aren’t compatible, … we’ve taken a step forward technologically, but taken a step back strategically,” she said.

In 2006, the Bush administration and the European Commission signed an agreement to cooperate and collaborate on developing the systems.

Blakey said she hopes that later in 2007 the two sides will announce several joint projects to further harmonization.


Integrating China and India with global air traffic systems is also important for making international air travel safe and trouble-free, she said, as the two countries experience an explosive growth in domestic air travel.

Blakey said the growth of China’s domestic air travel market – at about 8 percent per year – is hampered by a lack of sufficient infrastructure and a complex web of airspace restrictions. The Chinese have tried to catch up with the growth by beginning construction of more than 30 major airports in recent years and by pushing their military to relinquish some of the approximately 80 percent of Chinese airspace it controls.

The FAA administrator said her agency is doing as much as possible to help China improve its air traffic systems through technical assistance and training. (See related article.)

The United States also is working with the Chinese to help them understand the benefits of emerging technologies and automated and integrated air traffic systems, Blakey said.

Another U.S. official, Assistant Secretary of Transportation Andrew Steinberg, told USINFO that China, with its relatively undeveloped infrastructure, has an opportunity to jump directly to satellite-based air traffic systems, passing more developed countries that continue to rely on ground-based systems.

Blakey said her agency would like to use the experience it has gained in China to craft an aviation cooperation program with India, another rapidly developing aviation market.

“We are counting on a long-term relationship with India to work with them to grow their aviation system,” she said.

Blakey said the first U.S.-India Partnership Summit, scheduled for April 23-25 in New Delhi, will provide an opportunity to discuss the most important issues related to bilateral cooperation such as airport development and construction and air traffic management.

India already has asked for U.S. assistance in implementing more advanced navigation and training for its air controllers. The United States has offered to assist with the certification of India’s own satellite-based navigational system. (See related article.)

In March, the two countries are scheduled to begin discussions on a bilateral aviation safety agreement, which would allow the U.S. regulators to accept Indian airworthiness certification on some aviation and aerospace products. The FAA must certify aircraft and aerospace products before they can be used or operated in the United States. Under bilateral agreements with some countries, the agency accepts certifications issued by these countries’ authorities.

Additional information on the U.S.-India Partnership Summit is available on the Web site of the American Association of Airport Executives.

A transcript of Blakey’s remarks can be viewed on the FAA Web site.