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FAA issues five-year strategic plan

The Federal Aviation Administration issued a new, five-year strategic plan Wednesday that establishes objectives and criteria for the aviation industry in the areas of safety, airport capacity, international cooperation and organizational structure.

Within the next five years, the FAA will develop a national safety index to measure the risks and performance of the aviation system; implement a new navigation system for commercial aviation; and introduce unmanned aerial vehicles into the airways, according to highlights of the document, called Flight Plan 2004-2008.

The plan is intended to be flexible, but provides the agency with a roadmap to achieve key objectives, said FAA Administrator Marion Blakey during a news briefing. The FAA's budget will be tied to the plan starting in fiscal year 2005, she added.

The FAA intends to implement the national safety index by 2006, the plan showed. The index will provide a snapshot of civil aviation safety by measuring the frequency and outcome of all civil aviation accidents, and quantifying the risks to people onboard aircraft as well as on the ground.

"We feel it's important to portray the issues of safety in a way that people can grip," Blakey said, adding that the FAA will work with the aviation industry, other government agencies and the academic community to develop it.

To improve safety, the FAA is developing a Required Navigation Performance (RNP) system. RNP is an on-board navigational system that will direct aircraft using geographical coordinates, as opposed to the ground-based navigation system used by most airports and aircraft today. Blakey said RNP will be used first in Alaska because that state has the highest accident rate, and then be migrated to other states.

Another key objective in the plan is to reduce the rate of fatal commercial airline accidents by 80 percent by 2007. However, the plan does not include information on how the FAA will approach workforce issues and outsourcing in the coming years.

The FAA also issued a new rule Monday that requires pilots and airports to reduce the amount of vertical separation between flying planes. The rule is part of the strategic plan and reduces the minimum vertical separation between aircraft from 2,000 feet to 1,000 feet for all aircraft flying between altitudes of 29,000 feet to 41,000 feet.

The rule is expected to increase the routes and altitudes available to airports, allowing more efficient routings that will save time and fuel. Blakey estimated the rule would generate $5.3 billion in fuel savings through 2016.

"This rule offers a combination of greater aviation safety, capacity and cost efficiency, she said. All pilots and airports must come into compliance with the rule by Jan. 20, 2005.