Bill Carey August 07, 2020
COVID-19 has slowed the FAA’s 17-year march toward airspace modernization.
During an on-line meeting of the NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC) on August 6, FAA leaders affirmed what came as no surprise—the precautions taken to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 will delay programs underpinning the NextGen air traffic control (ATC) modernization effort dating to 2003.
Even against the backdrop of dramatically reduced aircraft movements, the FAA has been challenged just to maintain daily ATC operations since the first coronavirus infections appeared in the tower at Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW) on March 17. Leaders of the agency’s Air Traffic Organization and controllers’ union have said the FAA developed its own protocol for responding to the pandemic after initially receiving little support from public health authorities.
Guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the time called for people who had traveled internationally to stay at home for 14 days upon returning—closing a major airport tower for that amount of time would have been disruptive. “There really was no playbook on what to do,” said Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. The initial plan “was actually to shut Midway down for 14 days.” The FAA eventually reopened the tower in seven days.
As infections spread, the FAA activated…