The work expected to take more than two decades and

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Unformatted text preview: aircraft to fly at the same time, reduce carbon footprints, ease air controller workloads and save on pricey fuel. "This will fundamentally change how people fly," said Michael Huerta, deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration. The work — expected to take more than two decades and cost $20 billion to $25 billion for the government's part and perhaps an equal amount for the airlines' — "is a complex undertaking and is really a partnership of government and users of the aviation system ," Huerta said. It won't happen overnight. NextGen will evolve as technology evolves, and "it's not one day you flip a switch and it's deployed," Huerta said. Some of the NextGen technology that allows more precise monitoring of air traffic already is being used in Houston; Louisville, Ky.; Philadelphia; Alaska; and South Florida. Dallas-Fort Worth, Seattle, Atlanta and Las Vegas have NextGen guidance systems that streamline flight paths. In autumn of 2012, travelers flying into Denver International Airport probably will notice something that feels and looks a little different. Air-traffic controllers now direct aircraft to stair-step down in altitude, with pilots throttling up — and burning fuel — with each step down. NextGen technology will allow descents from 30,000 feet to the runway "without touching the throttle," said Aaron Barnett, the FAA's Denver area district manager for air-traffic control. The navigation improvements could mean a 6 percent reduction in fuel burn in Denver, Barnett said. The coasting could save 400 to 800 pounds of fuel per flight, and arriving planes could shave five to 20 miles off each flight. By 2020, aircraft are expected to be equipped to tell pilots exactly what their location is in relation to other aircraft. As a result, planes will be able to fly closer together safely. The major holdup: money . Congress, which has been battling over the budget, isn't in a free-spending mood, and airlines are hesitant to lay out an estimated $500,000 per plane for retrofitting. As aircraft are replaced, they will come equipped with NextGen avionics, but that's also costly. Some airline officials have called on the FAA to foot the bill. That hasn't gone over well. Until the airlines know they'll get a return, "it's difficult to make that case," said Steve Lott, spokesman for the Air Transport Association of America. On Aug. 29, the airline trade group called on the Obama administration and the FAA to develop a national aviation policy, including focusing resources on speeding up NextGen. The FAA predicts NextGen will cut travel delays 35 percent by 2018, with an estimated $23 billion in benefits to aircraft operators, travelers and the FAA. In the next seven years, GPS-enabled flight procedures will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 14 million tons and will save about 1.4 billion gallons of aviation fuel, FAA officials say. Jeff Smisek, chief executive of United Continental Holdings, said at a recent convention in Denver that Next Ge...
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