FAA announces $1 billion investment in air traffic control system

Apr 27, 2022

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The nation’s air traffic control facilities will soon be getting a facelift.

The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday announced how it would allocate the initial $1 billion in funding for the air traffic control (ATC) system that was passed as part of last year’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. As part of that, Congress passed $5 billion in total funding for air traffic control.

Many ATC facilities are aging. The nation’s 22 air route traffic control centers, which handle high-altitude traffic during the en route phase of flight, were built in the 1960s and have had maintenance issues over the years. In addition, half of the FAA’s air traffic control towers and Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facilities — which control the airspace around the nation’s busiest airports — are over 40 years old.

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Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg saw that firsthand during a recent visit to the Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center in Leesburg, Virginia. He toured an area full of pipes that’s directly above the control room floor where air traffic controllers guide aircraft and work with sensitive electronic equipment. Those pipes have leaked before, threatening to cause an ATC disruption that could have caused delays or cancellations to commercial flights. 

 

“Air traffic control facilities are the nerve centers of our airspace system, and a big part of the reason why flying is the safest mode of transportation,” Buttigieg said in a statement. “The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will repair, replace and modernize the infrastructure that our air traffic control system relies on to keep the traveling public safe for generations to come.”

Among the improvements that the $1 billion will go to: reliability improvements for navigation, weather and tracking equipment, upgrades to power systems, infrastructure upgrades at the en route air route traffic control centers (like the one Buttigieg visited), towers and TRACONs, air traffic control tower replacement, environmental and safety upgrades and security upgrades. The funding will also be used to hire more technicians and engineers.

More: How pilots communicate with ATC while 35,000 feet in the air

Additionally, FAA Deputy Administrator A. Bradley Mims said that the agency will prioritize businesses owned by women and minorities for contracts awarded as part of this funding.

“There’s a great deal of work needed to reduce the backlog of sustainment work, upgrades and replacement of buildings and equipment needed to operate our nation’s airspace safely,” Mims said in a statement. “We are going to make sure small and disadvantaged businesses owned by women and minorities have the chance to do this work so we can expand jobs and opportunities across the country.”

Featured photo of the air traffic control tower at the Boston Logan Airport — one of the FAA’s older facilities — by David Slotnick/The Points Guy.

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