FAA, European Commission partner on air traffic overhaul

Organizations sign a memorandum of understanding to work together on their respective modernization programs to create a seamless system for transoceanic flights.

The Federal Aviation Administration is working with its European counterpart to develop and deploy technologies to integrate transatlantic air traffic control.

Hank Krakowski, chief operating officer at FAA, and Daniel Calleja, the European Commission's director for air transport, signed an agreement on Friday to research specific initiatives for the air traffic modernization programs the United States and the European Commission are working on.

FAA is developing NextGen, an ambitious $20 billion program to replace the nation's aging radar-based air traffic control system with a satellite-based network by 2020. The European Commission is building Single European Sky ATM Research, a program launched in 2004 that will modernize Europe's air traffic management system.

SESAR will develop and deploy NextGen-compatible technology for European airspace. Mirroring FAA's program, SESAR will rely on trajectory-based flight paths, real-time weather and traffic information, and increased automation. European nations plan to begin rolling out the system in 2014, with completion set for 2020.

According to the agreement, FAA and the European Commission will cooperate on research for systems to replace voice communications with data communications and a program to integrate a fourth dimension -- time -- into the latitude, longitude and altitude of an aircraft's flight path. The technology will tell pilots and air traffic controllers when flights reach specific positions in their trajectory, allowing aircraft to fly from point to point more directly.

"When aircraft are flying between the two airspaces, we need it to be as seamless as possible," said Paul Takemoto, a spokesman for FAA. The goal is for Europe to use the same avionics, and the agreement formalizes the ability to do joint research, he added.

The agreement expands on a 2007 memorandum of understanding that encouraged collaboration on aviation technology, calling for specific research and development of NextGen-related initiatives.

FAA took another step in May to build NextGen when it announced contracts worth $4.4 billion to support system development. The agency will work with Boeing Co., General Dynamics and ITT to develop components for NextGen, including real-time weather information and air traffic modeling and simulation.