Updating the FAA's national air traffic control network is not exactly an easy undertaking. However, the desire to switch from a system that relies on radar to one that uses GPS has been on the front burner for some time now. Thanks to recent Congressional approval, the changeover is being moved from the front burner to the fast track.
The bill Congress approved not only finances the radar-to-GPS switch, it will also allow for unmanned drone flights in U.S. airspace within the next four years. This, of course, is assuming these flights will be of a non-military nature, because Predator drones are already in use over the United States. As for the radar-to-GPS approval, ABC News provides details:
The bill authorizes $63.4 billion for the Federal Aviation Administration over four years, including about $11 billion toward the air traffic system and its modernization. It accelerates the modernization program by setting a deadline of June 2015 for the FAA to develop new arrival procedures at the nation's 35 busiest airports so planes can land using the more-precise GPS navigation.
If you want an example of what TRACON-strapped air traffic controllers are currently working with, you can watch the following video from AirBoyd's YouTube channel. It's a 38 minute play-by-play of Florida air traffic controllers talking a passenger in after the pilot passed out.
While the story itself is incredibly compelling, the video also gives you a great example of the technology that's available to the FAA:
Instead of time-consuming, fuel-burning, stair-step descents, planes will be able to glide in more steeply with their engines idling. Planes will also be able to land and take off closer together and more frequently, even in poor weather, because pilots will know the precise location of other aircraft and obstacles on the ground. Fewer planes will be diverted.
The FAA's goal is to have the GPS system in place in the 35 busiest airports in the U.S., and the bill's authorization of $63.4 billion over the next four years will clearly facilitate the switch.
The last remaining hurdle for the FAA is President Obama's signature, signing off on the program; however, considering the current President's spotty record in relation to NASA, is there a guarantee the bill will get executive approval?