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Supply chain efficiencies would be significantly enhanced, and environmental costs lowered, if the US accelerated the modernisation of its air traffic control system.

A new system would save $30bn in annual costs, as well as shaving 10-15% off carbon emissions.

In a significant keynote speech at the CNS Partnership event in Nashville, Bill Flynn, CEO and president of Atlas Air, brought the air cargo industry into the debate with a plea for the US government to act fast.

There are 27,000 flights each day in the US, and 50,000 tons of cargo moved, while aviation accounts for 5% of GDP, noted Mr Flynn.

“Yet despite its economic significance, our nation’s aviation system has not kept pace with advancements in technology or the continuing increases in demand for both passenger and cargo airlift.

“Instead, we operate through an antiquated air traffic control system that, while safe, is based on World War 2-era radar technology. According to the FAA, aviation delays and congestion currently cost passengers, shippers, airlines, and our economy over $30bn annually.”

In the speech, similar to another by American Airlines’ president Doug Parker, My Flynn cited the example of a flight between Reagan National, to LaGuardia, which 20 years ago took less than an hour.

“To account for ATC delays, that same flight schedule today is an hour and a half – twice the actual flying time.”

As the air cargo industry looks to shave transit times, cut costs, increase efficiencies and cut carbon emissions at the behest of shippers, modernisation would be a win-win for all, said Mr Flynn and he appealed for the adoption of chairman Bill Shuster’s legislation, The Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization Act (AIRR).

“The AIRR Act is a transformational piece of legislation. It focuses on a comprehensive reform of the FAA and the nation’s aviation system.

“It continues to ensure the highest levels of safety – but under a more modern and efficient aviation system for the future. Specifically, the AIRR Act establishes a federally chartered, fully independent, not-for-profit corporation to operate and modernise our nation’s air traffic services.”

The AIRR Act relies on a self-funding user-fee model, based on the cost of ATC services, but that has lead to some concern from business aviation groups, which claim they would have no say in the governance of the new orgnisation, but also that they might have to pay the same fee structure as commercial airlines, which they object to.

Doug Lavin, CNS Board of Directors chairman, told The Loadstar that CNS was working closely with stakeholders to help promote the AIRR Act.

“The current system has been in place so long, and some people are not comfortable with change,” he said. “But relying on old technology doesn’t make any sense.”

CNS Board chair Mick Fountain added: “There is not enough transparency – I think CNS can help. This is relevant to a lot of people and it needs to get fixed.”

My Flynn said that expenditure on the NextGen project had reportedly already reached $6bn, but “to date, passengers, shippers, and aircraft operators have realised few benefits.

“Congestion and time delays slow the movement of world commerce. And unnecessary fuel burn and noise pollution limit progress toward desired environmental improvements.

“Our imperative is clear. If we can accelerate the pace of next-generation air traffic control modernisation…we can reduce delays and increase velocity in the supply chain.

“We can increase utilisation and capacity in the current system, without looking for new runways or additional airports.”

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