Houston's IAH Upgrades To Satellite

NextGen is said to be the biggest upgrade to the country's air traffic control system since World War II. It is the next generation of controlling the way aircraft will travel across the country. This move to satellite technology brought top federal aviation officials to Bush Airport.

NextGen air traffic control workers
With NextGen, air traffic control workers will no longer use a pencil to track international flights

John Porcari is deputy secretary of the Department of Transportation.

"This is the future, and it's happening right here in Houston. This is the most important single infrastructure investment that we're making as a nation in transportation. It's also an invisible one, in terms of safety, less fuel used, and more capacity in the system. So, it's a triple play."

He says there were two big reasons for NextGen coming to Houston:

"Houston is a great one to start with because with two airports, plus the gulf of Mexico and the helicopter operations in the gulf, and some of the enabling technologies for NextGen, are being pioneered here."

Whereas the current air traffic control network relies on radar and radio communications, NextGen uses satellite technology and digital communications. Airline consultant Buck Roger spoke to me on his way to catch a flight in California. He says control towers will have a new look from the inside out.

"Imagine a control tower that was built in 1950, and it just kind of peace meal these new technologies that come in. What NextGen does is it standardizes all the control towers, and brings them all up to the same level of technology. It makes them much more efficient, and allows the controllers and the pilots to interact safely, and uses satellite data which has been available for a long time, but now its gonna come up into the control towers, which is terrific."

With the escalating price of fuel, it will have an immediate impact to the airline industry.

"What NextGen does, it allows the airplane to start a constant path descent and idle power from altitude let's say, 35-thousand feet. all the way down to the airport. So imagine you're in idle tower, as opposed to speeding up, slowing down, leveling off, adding fuel. So, it's gonna decrease the fuel burning quite a bit, from top of descent to landing."

NextGen change the way planes fly in and out of Houston, making it more direct for these flights. It will also make things quieter for the neighborhoods the planes fly over as they're landing. The FAA will foot the bill for the $5 million upgrade for Houston by the end of next year.

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