DOT: ADS-B To Launch In Gulf In December

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NextGen satellite technology will go online in the Gulf of Mexico in December, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said at a news conference on Monday. The ADS-B system will cover 240,000 square miles. Helicopters that provide services to more than 9,000 oil rigs in the Gulf now must operate VFR only when they fly more than 150 miles offshore, beyond the reach of radar services, said LaHood. The NextGen system will enable them to fly IFR. Aircraft flying from Florida to South America also will benefit, he said. Air traffic controllers now must allow a 100-mile buffer for each aircraft crossing the Gulf on an IFR flight plan. The ADS-B system will make that unnecessary, allowing for less hold time between takeoffs. In an update on Tuesday, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said, "NextGen is a success story waiting to happen." The FAA is ready to commit to "giving it the juice it needs," he said, adding that he has the support of LaHood and President Barack Obama. "They want this up and running, and they are fully supportive. The green light can't get any greener than that."

LaHood said he's "not the kind of guy to lose his head over every technology that comes down the pike. But a program that delivers safety improvements, fuel conservation, and delay reductions -- that just makes sense." The FAA plans to deploy the system nationwide by 2013; however, not all aircraft will have the onboard gear they need to make use of it. Some airlines are lobbying for federal aid to pay for the expensive avionics upgrades, arguing that the cockpit gear is an essential part of the new infrastructure.