Today's global air transportation system uses ground-based communications and radar control. But according to a new Deloitte study, accelerating the program to transition to satellite-based navigation could reduce fuel consumption by three billion gallons, reduce four million hours of delay and cut 29 million metric tons of carbon emissions.
Airlines and passengers in the United States stand to benefit by $29 billion if the "NextGen" system is implemented by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration by 2020 instead of 2025 as scheduled.
But accelerating the timetable is not all roses. Potential risks for doing so include challenges with funding, technology standardization, integration, public policy agreement, air traffic control procedures and training.
Moreover, it certainly doesn't help that one major NextGen technology platform -- "En Route Automation Modernization," or ERAM, used to process flight data -- has already seen schedule slippages and cost overruns that could have a "cascading effect" on the entire "high-risk" program, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
More highlights from the report:
- Air travel demand is forecasted to grow to between 6 trillion and 14 trillion revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs) by 2025.
- In the high growth scenario, demand and capacity are mostly driven by the comparatively higher growth economies of China and India, as well as increased general aviation activity globally.
- Changes to airline fleet structures have occurred in the past as the airline industry adopts new models to keep up with changing passenger traffic dynamics...the type of aircraft operated will depend to a large extent on whether the hub and spoke airline business model dominates.
- The fuel efficiency of passenger aircraft has improved from 1960 to 2000 by as much as 55% to 70%. Going forward, aircraft are estimated to become up to 25% to 30% more fuel efficient by 2025, driven by new engine technology and aerodynamic improvements.
- The overall amount of fuel purchased is impacted by time in the air, by delays due to NAS capacity constraints, inclement weather and late aircraft.
"Satellite-based navigation technology is a real game-changer that allows pilots to experience more situational awareness, closer flight separation procedures, and continuous descent landings," Deloitte's Tom Captain said in a statement. "It could greatly reduce future weather and air traffic control delays just when travel demand is expected to increase significantly."