North America to (slowly) update Air Traffic Control

The long and hard fought battle for landing slots rages on in New York and London, where airlines like Virgin Atlantic and British Airways squabble over who gets how many slots and when they’re allowed to leave and depart from their airports.

Landing and departure slots are tightly controlled at these airports, and the already high volume at New York is the cause of over 70% of delays in the United States. So it’s obviously a sore topic with consumers, politicians and carriers. Passengers and airlines want more departures, but the current infrastructure can’t handle it, resulting in the delays.

To exacerbate the problem, earlier this year, congress pushed through legislation capping the maximum number of departures from the New York airports, effectively requiring any airline that wanted extra permission to leave during peak periods to pay extra. Naturally, the airlines are up in arms, saying that they’re just reacting to passenger demand.

How does one thus fix the volume problem? Airlines and analysts alike agree that the solution is in a better air traffic control system. The current technology used only allows for simple control of surrounding aircraft — but advancing this technology would allow for better stacking and management of traffic. Problem is, all of the aircraft in the skies currently work on the antiquated system — so you can’t just switch everything over.

Slowly, however, we’re starting to make progress, starting with the lower volume system in Canada. Next year, small sections of the country will implement a new system called Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast, or ADS-B, and if that’s successful the model will spread all over North America.

Don’t plan on the volume increasing at JFK any time soon though. With all of the equipment in the skies and in airports across the US, some predict that it could take another decade before everything is up to snuff.