Use of Satellite Technology for Air Traffic Control and Navigation

Published: Sep 24, 1986. Publicly Released: Sep 24, 1986.

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GAO discussed the potential use of satellite technology for air traffic control and navigation. When the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) developed the National Airspace System plan to modernize the nation's airspace system with ground-based systems, it did not consider satellites cost-effective or possibly operational by the time the upgraded ground-based systems were to be placed. However, there is some concern that the plan may not deliver the systems and benefits expected, at the cost expected, or within the time frame expected, since the schedules of most major programs have slipped because of technical and management problems. Satellites essentially provide coverage to the earth's surface because of their strategic, more comprehensive, look-down view, and may improve the controllers' ability to better identify aircraft conflicts in lower airspace areas. The Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics established a special committee to develop user views of the needs and requirements and forecasts of airspace conditions for the next 25 years. The Commission concluded that future airspace management systems should permit flight operations on the most favorable and fuel-efficient path without intervention and proposed that future systems provide coverage from the earth's surface to 70,000 feet. It also concluded that the FAA plan will not allow: (1) coverage of low-altitude areas; (2) landing of aircraft in areas without precision landing capabilities; and (3) airspace control where flight is restricted due to limited capabilities. GAO believes that there should be a full re-examination of the potential use of satellite technology, including the technology's potential impact on the current plan.