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FAA tests GE flight simulator, navigation system

March 20, 2012, 09:51 am

The Federal Aviation Administration recently tested out new aviation simulation technology at GE Aviation's learning center. At the center, engineers and scientists develop new ways to allow commercial jets to fly more precisely while saving fuel and reducing pollution and travel times.

Michael Huerta, acting administrator of the FAA, sat in a Boeing 737 flight simulator during the review of the facility to see how GE's performance-based navigation technology could be useful to the FAA's NextGen modernized air traffic control system. GE is one of many potential vendors hoping to be selected by the FAA to distribute its technology throughout the aviation industry, the Cincinnati Press reported.

If the FAA selects GE, the technology would replace current ground-based radio navigation with satellite systems and on-board aircraft global positioning equipment. These upgrades will improve flight paths, as well as allow jets to use less fuel and produce less pollution while decreasing flight times, according to the Press.

GE started investing in this technology in 2003, studying its impact at 46 regional airports across the United States. The company believes 12.9 million gallons of fuel, 747 days of travel time and $65.6 million in operational costs were saved at these airports throughout the testing, the Press reported.

Huerta agrees with GE's calculations, claiming the NextGen system could reduce flight delays by more than 33 percent and produce $24 billion in benefits to air carriers and the traveling public through improved efficiencies. The FAA has already started deploying components of the NextGen technology throughout the nation, but the full system will not be ready until 2020 at the earliest, reported the Press.

Steve Fulton, a former Alaska Airlines pilot who helped develop the NextGen air traffic management system, said the deployment of the technology will require strong American manufacturing and innovation, which will in turn create jobs and boost the economy, Business Courier reported.

Fulton said the key technological change first hit him in 1992 when the GPS system became available for commercial aviation. GE already operates its new navigation system at 22 airports in Canada, 17 in Australia and about a dozen in China. New systems are also being tested in Peru and Chile. Deployment of the system in the United States, however, requires more sophisticated collaboration and innovation. Compared to the other countries listed, the United States operates the largest and most complex air traffic system in the world, thus further research and development is needed before the system can be distributed nationwide, the Courier reported.

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