Right now, unmanned drone aircraft can only fly over parts of military bases and along the US borders. However by 2015, the FAA will open up all US airspace to unmanned aircraft for military, law enforcement and civilian use. This is obviously good news to local law enforcement, bad news if you’re already paranoid about being spied on by The Man.
But basically, it also means private airlines can switch to computer controlled take off and landing systems, saving money on fuel and making airplanes theoretically safer.
The FAA has spent years planning its NextGen upgrade, a new system designed to streamline traffic at airports, save fuel and reduce air travel headaches. NextGen is a behemoth program that consists of several complementary systems, notably the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, or ADS-B in airspace lingo. This system uses GPS to determine aircraft location, and it will enable planes to land in a more efficient, steep glide, rather than the fuel-wasting stair-step descents of the past and present. This is already being rolled out in some places, but the new bill requires the FAA to set up new arrival procedures at the country’s 35 busiest airports.
Eventually, planes will all have GPS that can update a plane’s location every second, instead of the six to 12 seconds it takes with current radar systems, AP points out. This will allow pilots to know where their planes are relative to each other, and this could help ease congestion and make for smoother taxi procedures.
NextGen has been planned and debated for years, and the modernization plan has been stymied by Congressional wrangling since 2007. This new bill, which now goes to President Obama for his signature, will finally get things moving again.
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