The promise of the NextGen Aviation Research Park is that it will host high-tech companies with well-paid employees, bringing jobs and money to the region.
The biggest names in aviation are already working on NextGen and related projects, including Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, Honeywell, Rockwell-Collins and ITT Corp., according to the William J. Hughes Technical Center.
Last month, Honeywell's Smart Path Precision Landing System became the first and so far only ground-based system to receive design approval from the FAA. The system uses GPS data to control landings on all of an airport's runways, replacing multiple radio-based instrument landing systems currently in use and meeting one of the NextGen goals.
Atlantic City International Airport is one of several test sites where Smart Path is operating. Honeywell expects this system alone to save a typical airport $400,000 per year by increasing capacity even as it improves navigational accuracy and reduces weather delays.
Chris Bench, director of Aerospace Regulatory Affairs for Honeywell, spoke this month about the extensive business opportunities presented by NextGen and how some could result in the company's presence in the NextGen Park.
Honeywell's potential work on pieces of NextGen is vast, Bench said, citing such areas as communications, GPS receivers, flight management systems, flight controls, traffic surveillance, terrain awareness systems, advanced weather radars, cockpit displays - and that's just some of the work to be done on the airborne side.
He said Honeywell met with the Tech Center's director, Wilson Felder, earlier this month to talk about their work together, such as on the integration of air-ground systems.
The Tech Center is critical to NextGen, Bench said, for many reasons, including certification procedures such as endurance testing and systems analysis. "They do a lot of work on evaluating the systems that the FAA buys, things like traffic controller automation."
One aspect of NextGen development works against the need to locate a facility near the Tech Center, he said.
"A lot of the projects being done with them, most of them are what we call remote projects. Researchers in a lot of different places around the U.S. can do the work very effectively," he said.
Placing a facility next to the Tech Center would offer tighter connections with lab and data facilities, he said. And the increase in human interaction would pay off in better productivity on some projects.
"We're not in, I'd say, a big hurry to open a facility there, but we're looking for the kind of projects where that would be beneficial," Bench said. "It's really just a matter of finding those projects."
Honeywell's next step with Smart Path is installing it at Newark Liberty International Airport, the first site where it will be fully operational, he said. By early next year, Continental Airlines planes will be equipped to fully interact with Smart Path.
"Pilots just love it. It's rock-solid compared to the old radio beam instrument landing systems, which are subject to interference," Bench said. "They lock on like they're on a train track."
But how soon aviation corporations move ahead with the numerous other NextGen improvements - and how soon the park reaches its potential - depend on the federal government, he said.
Bench called current project funding a year-by-year process, "almost like a continuing resolution," that lacks the certainty corporations require to plan programs.
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