Ohio State University working on “next-gen” air traffic control

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The Ohio State University is working to improve something many of us take for granted: Air traffic control. The university is collecting data for what promises to be the "next generation" of aviation.

Last week, 10 Investigates revealed why members of Congress say the nation's air traffic control system is at a “breaking point.” 10TV discovered a severe shortage of controllers around the country and alarming and dangerous discipline reports.

OSU's aviation department is working on a long-term solution. Air traffic control systems now work on outdated ground-based technology.

An average smartphone has more ways to communicate than the current plane guidance system. That's why OSU is helping to pioneer a new system. It would use GPS, texting and data sharing between aircraft to get planes to their destinations quicker and safer.

“The infrastructure really hasn’t changed that much, so airplanes are still flying on prescribed flight routes, navigating to ground based radio station. Air traffic controllers are still looking at radar and there's this mandatory control policy where a pilot can’t really do anything without a controller's direction. That leads to a lot of overload in the system,” said OSU Aviation chair Dr. Seth Young.

“Next-gen is doing that in aviation, on the communication side. Imagine now pilots not having to talk to an air traffic controller for every direction, takeoff, landing, climb, descent, but getting text messages or even getting the air traffic control system to talk directly to the airplane so that the airplane can make those maneuvers. Take it one step further, have the airplanes talk to each other so that if there is some sort of potential conflict there. The airplanes will correct themselves,” added Dr. Young.

OSU has a partnership with Columbus-based NetJets to try out the next-generation air traffic control system on their fleet.

“I believe that the Columbus airspace is a great place to do a full implementation of next-gen because we have just enough traffic to show improvements but not too much traffic and infrastructure to make it burdensome to make that transition.” Said Dr. Young.

He expects full implantation of next-generation air traffic control systems within the next 10 years nationwide.