I'm not going to get into a debate about separations but I will say, that with the change of separations on the North Atlantic, we in Ireland are now treated to Shannon ATC Centre, dealing with traffic on and of the Ocean to/from 15 west (the limit of VHF coverage), calling traffic on converging headings, warning them of the proximity of the opposition traffic viz:
XX123 opposition traffic 1000 above twelve o'clock less than 2 minutes.
YY321 opposition traffic 1000 below twelve o'clock less than 2 minutes.
As if the guys and girls hadn't better things to do.
However, I do want to talk about freeflight.
The FAA decided to announce this in December 1994 and the first public airing outside the USA was at The Privatisation of Air Traffic Control Conference which I organised at the Edwardian Hotel LHR early that month.
A very senior FAA staffer, L Lane Speck addressed a totally incredulous audience of around 120 ATC Chief Execs, Government Ministers, Airline Bosses and Equipment Manufacturers and outlined the principles. The seassion was the last of the second day of the conference, due to finish at 17.30. We left the room after I asked the Chairman to call an end to questions at 18.55, 35 minutes before we were due to have dinner.
Mr Speck's table was the most popular that night.
The system started on a phased basis from FL410 down, between certain city pairs and the US border and various gateway airports in 1995.
I took a not very scientific straw poll of crews on the North Atlantic flights I rode between 1995 and 2000.
Most crews knew nothing of the scheme, some said they would pay much closer attention to TCAS (!), most thought it full of problems.
Funding for the scheme (if it is to operate from 5,000ft up, all aircraft - including light aircraft - will need TCAS and INS/GPS and all control centres will need much upgraded confliction alert devices) was and continues to be a problem. Congress will not vote the billions needed and the ATC industry, airlines and GA users say they can't afford to fund the scheme.
In 1997 I was called to Washington and met Mr Speck to discussa series of events to launch Ha-Alaska, a trial that was to be run in Hawaii and Alaska where all traffic above 5,000ft would be free flight. The areas were chosen for their mix of aviation, a reasonable but not over heavy traffic load and because both domestic and international traffic would be involved.
My visit was in March, I was told the funding would be available in June and we agreed a formula and outline costs which, I was told, were acceptable. In June, Congress refused the funds for the trial as designed.
I'm still awaiting the call to provide the launch any form
of free flight, though I believe the original scheme and a very much modified and smaller Ha-Alaska is in place (how is it operating though?).
Will free flight work? Not without billions of $ in investment, training and mind set adjustment procedures. It should, in theory, free up airspace (why should every flight follow narrow corridors and come into confliction on every climb/descent and at every VOR?).
VOR airways in the US were put into place by the Eisenhower administration as a result of the Grand Canyon TWA/United accident. In essence, this is going back to the days of unrestricted VFR rules, with modern positioning and alert devices as backstops.
There is talk of a similar system for Europe but the mind just boggles at this. With so much military airspace relinquished around the world, perhaps a better way is to treble airway width, at least as a first step - but no -one has yet come up with how to deal with terminal area congestion at current and growing frequency rates.