The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday season prompted the President last week to reduce projected travel delays by allowing civilian airliners to use military air routes. The military routes are along the Eastern Seaboard (from
The reaction by the President has been applauded by the airlines but really fails at creating a long-term solution to the problem. By adding civilian aircraft to military air routes, military aircraft responding to emergencies alerts will have to exercise additional caution in executing their missions. Military controllers will have to spend additional time and effort identifying aircraft that may be transiting military airspace. Military training missions may potentially be delayed or curtailed during the holiday season. None of these situations enhances the security of the homeland. The increased volume of air traffic is being created without a corresponding increase in the ability to safely monitor and track these aircraft. Additionally, any military aircraft responding to potential attacks or threats will have to waste precious time avoiding any civilian airliners traveling along one of their routes.
All of this could be palatable IF the lack of airspace were the real cause of the problem. Civilian airspace is managed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) which uses radar to observe and control civilian aircraft. Radar technology was first introduced by the British during World War II when it was discovered that radio signals could be bounced off of enemy aircraft. The bounced radio signals could be used to determine the location and heading of these aircraft. The basics of radar technology have remained the same despite improved technology. Early radar used for air traffic control would sweep (a term used to describe the rotational speed of the radar antenna) every 10 seconds. Approach radars sweep is every 5 seconds. With a modern jet airliner traveling at over 400 knots, and flight data for the radar updating only every 10 seconds, it becomes necessary to maintain a large separation between aircraft. Most civilian aircraft traveling under radar control must maintain a minimum horizontal separation of 2 nautical miles AND a minimum vertical separation of 5,000 feet. A near miss is anytime two aircraft come closer either vertically (altitude) or horizontally (distance) than these minimums.
The radar for controlling
Instead of meaningful dialog about ways to fund a replacement to the antiquated radar system, we hear about how airlines are increasing staff availability. Instead of partnering with our allies on retrofitting cockpits with