All Aircraft Taxiways Lead to D.C.

What do strategic bombers have to do with air traffic control modernization? The answer is everything.

While serving in the Air Force, I flew both the majestic B-2 and the venerable B-52 in combat. If asked to serve again, I would want a B-2 stealth strapped to my back and the reason is simple. Anyone who sits at the controls of a B-2 stealth bomber and compares them to its predecessor will quickly realize that new technologies and innovation in aerospace are game changers.

Our congressional and executive leaders historically have understood the value of new technologies and have allocated funded accordingly, as is witnessed in the case of our strategic bombers. The result of those efforts has been global reach and power for America. Unfortunately, while there is an obvious needed for air traffic control modernization, the much-needed Next Generation Air Transportation System has not been properly funded.

Since leaving the military I have flown the Boeing 757 internationally and 737 domestically as a commercial airline pilot and have witnessed the introduction of new technologies that improve our travel experience. NextGen promises to further improve commercial aviation by reducing costs, making air travel safer and improving our environment by minimizing taxi and loiter time.

As a current professional pilot, while waiting as number 15 for takeoff, I often wonder why we allow delays to waste so much passenger time and company resources. Failing to update our antiquated ATC systems cost passengers, airlines, and airports an estimated $28 billion in 2018 alone and is detrimental to the environment. FAA statistics show that “implementation of Next Gen systems will reduce fuel consumption by 1.6 Billion gallons, reduce carbon emissions by 16 million tons, and save $38 Billion through 2020.”

The chaos and congestion that exists in synchronizing too many jets at airports meanwhile, especially while on the ground, can lead to accidents. Most happen within two miles of the airport and almost half occur during the final approach and landing stages. Digital flight plans that allow planes to reroute in real time to avoid weather and that allow additional aircraft to efficiently and safely integrate into congested airports will help avoid delays and cut down on these devastating accidents.

Former Transportation Secretary Jim Burnley stated as far back as 2015 that FAA reauthorization “presents a golden opportunity to accelerate the implementation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (better known as NextGen).” That was now four years ago.

We must ask what is the hold up — and why? It appears that all aircraft taxiways lead to D.C. and the result is chaos. It’s hard to believe, but Congress recently cut funding for the FAA rather than add needed monies to an aging system. In fact, the funding bill approved this February cut the FAA’s budget by $549 million. What are we doing?

Just as we must modernize our military power to stay committed to be the best and most effective fighting force, we must invest to update our aging FAA infrastructure and augment antiquated equipment, especially when it’s cost effective. The FAA estimates “that by 2030, the total benefits of NextGen improvements will be $160.6 billion, at a cost of $35.8 billion to the FAA and the aviation industry. After discounting to present value, the benefit-to-cost ratio is 3-to-1.”

In order to maintain safety and efficiency, our ATC systems must be modernized. Not doing so is not an option. Congress and the president have a great opportunity to work together on a project that will improve our infrastructure, release fewer emissions into the environment, and save monies and time for consumers.

We inherited a great system from our pioneer aviators, but now it is time to innovate and create new, more robust systems. Cutting-edge military technologies such as the B-2 stealth bomber have shown their worth through their results. We now need the same focus and funding with updating our ATC system to be poised for the future. Americans deserve the best when it comes to our air travel experience. As for me, I’ll take the B-2 over the B-52 anytime, anywhere. The same goes with our NextGen. It is beyond time that our elected officials support ATC modernization.

Lt. Colonel Tony Monetti (USAF. Ret.) is a retired Air Force bomber pilot and the former assistant dean of aviation for the University of Central Missouri.

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