07/20/2010 05:02 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Future of Global Air Traffic Management

This afternoon at the 2010 Farnborough International Airshow in London, I had the pleasure of hosting a panel of experts from the aviation industry that discussed the critical need for modernizing air traffic management (ATM) systems around the world.

As I wrote a few months ago, efforts are underway to transform the U.S. ATM system through the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) NextGen program. But the growth of air traffic congestion is a problem beyond the United States, and inefficiencies in existing ATM systems worldwide are causing billions of dollars in losses related to delays and increased fuel consumption. This results in higher operating costs for airlines, higher ticket prices for passengers and unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions.

I'm glad to report that progress has been made to address this challenge during the past year. In the United States, NextGen is proceeding on schedule, and we now have a firm timetable for full program implementation by 2020. In Europe, the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) program has taken steps toward substantial fuel reductions and safety improvements.
And within the past month, the European Union and United States have signed a pact to collaborate on harmonizing SESAR and NextGen to help ensure a seamless, interoperable transatlantic system.

There are issues that remain, however, for both NextGen and SESAR. Among these are the cost of equipping aircraft with the technology needed to communicate with satellite-based ATM systems and integration of the capabilities of new technology into existing ATM operations to allow delivery of the promised benefits.

I am grateful to each of these panelists for reminding us of the vital need for investment in the next generation ATM systems that will meet the needs of aviation in the 21st century.