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The Federal Aviation Administration has awarded $4.4 billion in contracts over 10 years to three firms to help deploy its next-generation air-traffic control system.
Boeing, General Dynamics, and ITT were awarded the contracts to provide technology and services to demonstrate procedures for the FAA's NextGen project. The procedures will show in real time how NextGen can be deployed on a large scale within the current air traffic control system.
NextGen is an ambitious plan to overhaul the stressed and outdated air traffic control system in the United States by 2025.
The FAA will work with the three contractors to demonstrate procedures for NextGen to create a four-dimensional air traffic control system -- adding time to the aircraft's measures of latitude, longitude, and altitude.
The current system is in 3-D, tracking planes according to a map of "roads in the sky," according to the FAA. Adding a time element to the system means pilots and air traffic controllers will not only know more precisely where an aircraft is, but also when a plane is meant to arrive at a given point, the FAA said.
It also allows controllers to take into consideration heavy traffic and bad weather when routing places.
The three firms also will help the FAA develop a more modern weather service that includes imaging to allow pilots and controllers to see bad weather at various altitudes, the FAA said. This will allow pilots and controllers to plan safer routes without having to interpret weather information themselves.
While the FAA has high hopes for NextGen, it likely won't be completed on schedule, and the FAA's management of it has been criticized.
A panel of witnesses told a House of Representatives subcommittee last month the project is being hampered by lack of coordination among agencies working on it that, in addition to the FAA, include the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, the Department of Commerce, and NASA.
Still, witnesses acknowledged that despite issues, NextGen is making progress and the FAA is committed to moving the project forward.