DENVER (AP) – Denver International Airport is one of a handful in the country beginning to work with technology to switch from a radar-based system of tracking planes to a more precise satellite system, the airport’s aviation manager said Tuesday.

The new system will allow airplanes to safely fly closer together and increase traffic capacity. It is part of planned airspace redesign from the Federal Aviation Administration, Kim Day, DIA’s aviation manager, told Colorado lawmakers in a briefing.

Although Day said it could be as long as 20 years before the FAA fully implements the redesign, she added that DIA could have a “real robust system” in place in five or six years. The new equipment the airport is using now allows air traffic controllers to track airplanes on the ground differently than before, Day said.

“We’re on the cutting edge here,” Day said.

The redesign will also rely on airplanes getting new computers installed to make takeoffs and landings easier, she said

Other airports starting to test the new technology include Los Angeles, Atlanta and Dallas-Fort Worth, Day said.

The FAA program, known as Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen, will use satellite-based technology instead of ground radar systems. Day said the current system is imprecise and forces airplanes to fly at a distance of five miles from each other. A satellite system would change that, she said.

“When you go a satellite-based system, it’s like a GPS in your car, so it’s much more precise and so you can have those planes flying much closer together because you know exactly where they are,” she said.

Changing to a satellite system will also allow pilots to fly directly to their destinations, instead of taking indirect routes that keep them in range of ground stations.

New computer systems installed on airplanes will guide aircraft to their runways from as far as 60 miles away, making a continuous descent, instead of a stair- step descent that uses more fuel, Day said. That means will be flights shorter and cheaper, she said.

“We can’t implement it soon enough,” Day said.

– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)


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