WASHINGTON — Low-cost air carrier JetBlue Airways will begin using satellite-based technology key to modernizing the nation's air traffic control system beginning in 2012, federal and airline officials said Thursday.
JetBlue has signed an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration to equip as many as 35 Airbus A320 planes with satellite-based technology that allows air traffic controllers to see the planes at all times, officials said at news conference at Reagan National Airport near Washington.
The technology will enable JetBlue planes to fly more precise flights from Boston and New York to Florida and the Caribbean, saving time, money and fuel, officials said.
FAA is in the midst of a massive project to replace the nation's air traffic control system, which is based on World War II-era radar technology, with a GPS-based system. Radar updates the location of planes about every 5 to 12 seconds, but the GPS technology will update plane locations every second, providing controllers with real-time information.
As a result, controllers will be able to space planes closer together, enabling more frequent takeoffs and landings and relieving congestion.
FAA is in the process of putting in place new equipment, software and procedures to make the new system work. But airlines and other aircraft operators will have to install onboard equipment in order to make use of the new "NextGen" system. The project is expected to take more than a decade to complete at a cost to FAA of as much as $22 billion and to industry as much as $20 billion.
Some air carriers have balked at the cost. They want FAA to help pay to equip planes.
FAA agreed to pay $4.2 million for the hardware and software necessary to equip JetBlue planes, officials said. The airline will pay to install and maintain the equipment, as well as train flight crews and dispatchers how to use it.
In exchange, FAA will gather data on the new system's real world performance in the congested East Coast air corridor. The agreement will also allow JetBlue to fly a new route to the Caribbean, and could lead to the development of two new, shorter routes to the Caribbean from Boston, New York and Washington
"NextGen will help improve the travel experience for passengers and give airlines more flexibility to find the most efficient way to reach their destinations," FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said in a statement.
FAA hopes that eventually aircraft operators will agree to install equipment that allows pilots to see the locations of other planes as well, something that's not possible with radar.