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White House Targets Houston Airports
for Technology Testing

Next generation navigation system will be expedited at
Bush and Hobby Airports

November 1, 2011

© Houston Airport System
The Next Gen system employs satellite technology as well as ground-based technology for accurate positioning.
Houston will once again play a key role in the development of a new state-of-the-art aircraft tracking system. A multi-million dollar project, known as Next Generation Air Transportation System Infrastructure, or Next Gen, is combining satellite positioning technology with ground-based positioning equipment at both George Bush Intercontinental Airport and William P. Hobby Airport.

Both airports will see the installation of new software and hardware in key locations, as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) looks to improve the air traffic control system being used within the aviation industry.

The satellite technology, which is similar to the global positioning satellite (GPS) technology used in many automobiles, will be used by air traffic controllers and pilots to find and utilize the most efficient flight path for approaching aircraft preparing for landing. The Next Gen system also utilizes tracking equipment on the ground to further pinpoint the location of the plane and the most efficient approach for landing.

“Imagine that the GPS system in your car gets you within 50 feet of your destination,” says Lance Lyttle, chief development officer for the Houston Airport System. “Now imagine that an augmentation system on the ground that works alongside the GPS system gets you within one foot of your destination. That’s the overriding theory behind this dual approach.”

Lyttle says because Next Gen is more operationally efficient than a ground-based tracking system alone, the technology helps reduce fuel usage, carbon emissions and Greenhouse gases by avoiding unnecessary air time that is often associated with typical aircraft approaches.

President Barack Obama recently instructed the Federal Aviation Administration to expedite the program through the permitting and environmental review processes, in an effort to maximize the demonstrative value needed for future improvements to the system.

To passengers, the Next Gen system will likely go unnoticed but the improvements in efficiency brought about by the program are expected to pay dividends for everyone involved in the aviation industry.

“You can have many more flights flying even closer distance to each other in a much safer manner,” Lyttle says. “So the end result of that will be a significant reduction in delays at airports and also a reduction in carbon emissions.”

This is the second time that a Houston airport has played a key role in the testing of a new tracking system. In 2009, Southwest Airlines tested a satellite-based system to chart approaches at Hobby Airport.  Airline officials say the pilot program led to a 6 percent reduction in fuel burn and Southwest has since installed the technology at 11 additional airports located across the country. 
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