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Air traffic control update bound for Detroit Metro

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Romulus — A new satellite-based air traffic control system is being developed for the skies over Metro Detroit in an effort to streamline airplane traffic control, reduce flight delays and decrease emissions, Federal Aviation Administration officials said Wednesday.

FAA officials made a 15-minute presentation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen, to the Wayne County Airport Authority, which runs Detroit Metropolitan Airport. NextGen seeks to transition from traditional radar to satellite-based navigation based on the global positioning system, or GPS.

A new satellite-based air traffic control system is being developed for the skies over Metro Detroit in an effort to streamline airplane traffic control, reduce flight delays and decrease emissions, Federal Aviation Administration officials said.

The upshot: Flight times will be cut as planes more efficiently are routed to maximize time, officials contend. Federal officials, who are planning public hearings to unveil the project and seek feedback, say the system won’t be fully implemented until 2018.

“It is a total conversion of our current system of ground-based navigation and communication facilities and radar systems to satellite technology,” said Barry Cooper, regional administrator of the FAA’s Great Lakes Region, following his presentation to the airport authority board. “Just as satellite technology has changed various aspects of our lives via cellphones and things we couldn’t use before, the aviation system is moving in that direction.”

The FAA has been working on NextGen for more than a decade and has said much progress has been made. But airlines say they have yet to see significant benefits from the billions of dollars spent on modernization.

To simplify the FAA’s mission, Cooper said, the FAA is taking the “complex air space around Detroit” and taking advantage of the space in the skies to “reshape the air corridors, the highways in the sky to get maximum benefit from what satellite technology allows us to do.”

FAA officials said the airspace between Detroit and Cleveland is being combined as the Cleveland-Detroit Metroplex because the systems in those regions are not as advanced as federal officials would like them to be.

“While the airport authority is not responsible for determining any flight paths associated with NextGen, our team is supportive of the FAA’s efforts to modernize the air traffic system,” said Metro Airport CEO Thomas Naughton in a statement. “According to the FAA, the ongoing transformation of air traffic control technologies and procedures will enhance aviation safety in the United States and throughout our region. Safety is a priority the FAA and Detroit Metropolitan Airport share. NextGen is also expected to increase efficiency and reduce carbon emissions.”

Houston, Dallas, Washington, D.C., already are on the NextGen plan while Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina, are near completion, officials said.

Ronald Wood, an FFA official based in Ohio who is helping to coordinate the transition, said the efficiencies will be shorter flight miles that will save travelers time. “We want to keep the routes where they are today as much as we can,” Wood said. “As you get out farther and up higher, we can do things with the airplanes that don’t impact people and that’s where we can gain a lot of efficiencies.”

State Rep. Paul Clemente, D-Lincoln Park, who represents Melvindale, Riverview and Wyandotte, not far from Metro Airport, said: “This allows direct flights much more,” he said. “It will save energy, (emit) less carbon emissions ...”

U.S. House Transportation committee chairman Bud Shuster, R-Pa., said last summer the U.S. lags other nations in the transition from a radar-based system to one based on satellites.

The Associated Press contributed.