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This new NASA air traffic control tech aims for flight efficiency

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This new air traffic control system will free up space for more flight patterns, enhance pilot communication, save fuel, and improve flight arrival times.

NASA and the FAA are conducting trial flights to test new air traffic control technology this week around Grant County International Airport in Washington state.

The project aims at overall flight efficiency. The flights testing the plane-guiding technology is one leg of the $35-billion NextGen national aviation revamp underway, according to Wired.

The plan is to restructure everything from “preflight prep to arrival, introducing modern planning software, digital instead of voice communication, and GPS-based position-reporting over imprecise radar-based tracking” by 2030.

NASA and the FAA dubbed the air traffic control tests ATD-1, which stands for Air Traffic Management Technology Demonstration-1. Wired reports that “a Boeing 757, a Honeywell business jet, and a Boeing 737” will utilize the plane-guiding tech around the Grant County International Airport so that researches can make an assessment of the technology’s productivity.

The current air traffic control system talks pilots through the landing process while using radar data. NASA project manager Leighton Quon said that because radar data is flawed and voice communication causes delays, more space between airplanes is required.

The new system will speed up communications, add more space for airplane flight patterns, and sharpen tracking precision. It will also save fuel and improve flight arrival times.

“The core of the new system is an on-board GPS receiver and data transmitter known as ADS-B, which can broadcast an aircraft’s position to other aircraft and ground controllers with far greater precision than radar. The setup, already on many business and private aircraft, will be required on commercial airplanes by 2020, mostly to communicate their positions to nearby aircraft, as a safety measure. Folding in the approach management element, Quon says, is a bonus,” reports Wired.

The FAA reports it has spent $7.5 billion on the NextGen air traffic modernization program over the past seven years.

“That investment has resulted in $2.7 billion in benefits to passengers and the airlines to date, and is expected to yield more than $160 billion in benefits through 2030,” the FAA stated in a recent press release.