05/09/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Making Our Skies a Little Greener

If you've spent any time recently waiting for a delayed flight in an airport terminal or found yourself sitting on the tarmac for a few hours, you know first-hand that air traffic congestion in the U.S. is a growing problem. Without significant improvements to the nation's current air traffic control network, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates that the system will be overwhelmed by 2015 under the pressure from the rising number of flights and passengers.

Indeed, skies all around the world are becoming increasingly crowded, leading to a global increase in delays, safety issues and greater environmental impact. While flight delays are the most familiar symptom of this congestion to most people, aviation-related emissions are a serious environmental issue that deserves attention in its own right.

These emissions currently account for two percent of global man-made carbon output, roughly the same amount emitted per year by the entire United Kingdom--an 80 percent increase during the past 20 years. This problem will compound over the next 20 years as the world's passenger aircraft fleet doubles. And just as with cars on a gridlocked highway, greater congestion leads to more wasted fuel and resulting emissions.

It's yet one more reason that bringing air traffic control into the 21st century is vital. It's also the reason I'm writing from Amsterdam, where ITT is participating in ATC Global, likely the world's largest gathering of air traffic management professionals. Here, the need to reduce the industry's carbon footprint was a hot topic.

To meet this challenge in the U.S., the FAA is modernizing the national airspace system through NextGen. It will dramatically improve air traffic control safety and efficiency by introducing the widespread use of satellite-based GPS technology to U.S. aviation.

The backbone of this system is a new technology called Automatic Dependent Surveillance - Broadcast (ADS-B). The deployed ADS-B surveillance network is designed to provide more accurate and rapidly updating position data using GPS to determine aircraft position. ITT is drawing upon its extensive experience in advanced engineering to partner with the FAA in developing and deploying the ground infrastructure of this system. ADS-B provides air traffic controllers and pilots with information on weather, air traffic in the area and other data that will help aircraft more safely and efficiently navigate airspace. By 2013, ADS-B coverage will blanket the entire United States.

NextGen and ADS-B will make more direct routes and landing approaches possible - this means reduced flight times and fuel consumption. In fact, a typical airplane utilizing ITT's technology during every landing would avoid the equivalent annual carbon emissions of more than 100 cars.

Adoption of the proposed funding for NextGen is critical given the benefits for the flying public, the environment and commerce. As Washington sorts out its budget during the coming months, we must ask our leaders in Congress to say "yes" to safer and greener skies over our nation.