Firms see big bucks in upgrade of U.S. air traffic control system

Fri Jun 9, 2017 8:24am EDT
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By Alwyn Scott

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Inside the control tower at John F. Kennedy International Airport, air traffic controllers can track planes traveling hundreds of miles away.

But when it's time for a controller to hand off responsibility for watching a flight, the technology becomes decidedly last century: details are printed on a slip of paper and passed to a co-worker.

President Donald Trump promised on Monday to sweep away such outmoded systems and replace them with "the best, newest and safest technology available."

Trump's solution is to split air traffic control away from the Federal Aviation Administration and privatize it under a not-for-profit, independent corporation.

Billions of dollars in government and private contracts ride on the conversion of the nation's air traffic control system to satellite-based GPS. A federal modernization program known as NextGen has already targeted traditional ground-based radar and other aging technologies for replacement.

Still, the United States lags well behind other countries including Canada, Ireland and Denmark, whose satellite-based GPS systems are slated to go live next year.

Private-sector companies angling for a piece of this business see wide commercial potential for products unleashed by the U.S. modernization effort, including digital cockpit messaging, live monitoring of aircraft engines and systems, advanced weather maps and faster internet service for passengers.

"It's a big deal for us," said David Nieuwsma, a senior vice president in charge of such systems at Rockwell Collins Inc (COL.N: Quote). "We know it's the future."   Continued...

FILE PHOTO - A plane passes the air traffic control tower at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, U.S. on June 5, 2017.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo