WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has switched much of the U.S. air traffic control system to a new advanced computer system designed to reduce flight delays and improve aircraft fuel efficiency, officials said on Thursday.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told reporters that the $2.5 billion satellite-based En Route Automation Modernization, or ERAM, system has now fully replaced generations-old radar tracking. It was installed a month ago at the 20 FAA air traffic control centers in the continental United States.
ERAM is intended as the backbone of an effort to overhaul aviation systems with next-generation technology. It would help the U.S. aviation system cope with an expected 50 percent rise in air passengers over the next two decades, by enabling air traffic controllers to track more flights over larger areas.
"You can kind of think of ERAM as a foundational technology - an iPad," Huerta said. "We'll be building additional applications on top of it."
Officials said the new system, implemented after about five years of delays and $350 million in cost overruns, should reduce flight delays and boost fuel efficiency by expediting departures and setting more accurate course and speed corrections while aircraft are between gates.
ERAM can track nearly twice as many high altitude flights as its predecessor and process three times the amount of data, the FAA said.
FAA officials provided no data on ERAM's performance so far but said the system has met stringent standards for safety, performance and reliability at each of 20 air traffic control centers.
The system has not been implemented at FAA control centers in Hawaii, Alaska, Guam and Puerto Rico.
Republicans in Congress want the U.S. aviation overhaul to include privatization of the air traffic control system. But U.S. Treasury Secretary Anthony Foxx expressed caution about such proposals.
"We will be open to thinking about different structures. But the pivot point has to be recognizing that we have the safest system in the world, and we don't want to do anything to jeopardize that," said Foxx, who appeared alongside Huerta at a press conference.
(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Richard Chang)