NextGen To Change
The Face Of Aviation
By Daniel Baxter
August 3, 2009: At the Federal Aviation Administration, change is in the air. You could also say it is on the ground at airports, in cockpits, and on the minds of aviation professionals everywhere. From flight decks and control towers to runways and radar stations, our national air transportation system is moving toward an unprecedented, paradigm-shifting change. The next 10 years promise to be a pivotal time in the history of air transportation, as we begin a transformation that will change the face of aviation. It is called the Next Generation Air Transportation System NextGen for short and it will forever redefine how we manage our national airspace system (NAS).
The 2009 Federal Aviation Administration Flight Standards Service New Technologies Workshop, "Future Flight Technologies The Wings of NextGen," is dedicated to highlighting innovations that will enable critical transitions necessary for the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). The Workshop will also provide updates on NextGen building blocks, key elements of existing programs, technology, new systems under development and Challenges.
As in previous years, the Workshop will bring together the user community from the U.S. and abroad, including aviation leaders from industry, academia, government, and service providers for a two-day exchange of knowledge and ideas. This is the perfect opportunity to share insights, celebrate accomplishments, explore future technologies, and discuss industry developments.
The NAS encompasses virtually everything that has anything to do with air transportation. A vast, multi-layered operation, there is much more to the NAS than will ever meet an untrained eye. In fact, most people are astounded when they learn what is involved with managing our nation’s airspace. Consider this: more than 821 billion passenger miles were flown last year in United States airspace. To make that happen, more than 15,000 air traffic controllers provided service to America’s 590,000 pilots, who flew 239,000 aircraft in and out of 20,000 U.S. airports. Overall, more than 46 million aircraft operations were safely aided by 59,000 pieces of communications, weather, and navigational equipment that was maintained by more than 7,000 FAA technicians.
The complexity of the NAS is as impressive as it is difficult to grasp. Even more impressive may be the far-reaching impact that the air transportation industry has on the United States’ economy. Civil aviation contributes $1.2 trillion annually to our country’s economy, or more than 5 percent of the gross domestic product. It generates nearly 11 million jobs with earnings of $369 billion. The industry contributes positively to the U.S. trade balance, creates high paying jobs, keeps just-in-time business models viable, and connects us to friends, family and commercial opportunities.
There is cause for concern, however. Despite the current economic down turn, delays repeatedly impact passenger travel and the forecasts of future demand remain high. New space vehicles, are about to take flight. Continued demands for improving levels of safety and reduced environmental impacts all will bring even greater complexity to NAS operations.
If we are to meet future demand, we must have a comprehensive system upgrade that will allow us to fundamentally change the way we manage air traffic.
NextGen will enable critical transitions:
• From ground based to satellitebased navigation and surveillance…
• From voice communications to digital data exchange…
• From a disparate and fragmented weather forecast delivery system to a system that uses a single, authoritative source…
• From operations limited by visibility to sustaining the pace of operations even when impacted by adverse weather or difficult terrain.
Most significant, however, is the one transition that makes all the others possible—moving from disconnected and incompatible information systems to a scalable, networkcentric architecture. This will ensure that everyone using the system has easy access to the same information at the same time, when needed.
NextGen will be built on key elements from existing programs and technology, and on new systems under development now. We will begin by making the most of modern aircraft capabilities and those elements of the system that can take advantage of them. Then, over the next decade, we will continue a series of coordinated upgrades to the current ground infrastructure and aircraft systems. This will introduce superior technology and new procedures to enhance operational capabilities and provide numerous efficiencies to the system. The resulting system will be scalable, networked, and fully digital.
With NextGen, we will continue to advance our already exemplary safety record by introducing new analytic tools precursors. These tools will allow us to act on potential problems before they take shape.
In addition, airports will benefit from increased safety, better use of existing capacity, greater design flexibility, and reduced environmental impacts. New technologies, standards, and procedures, in addition to new airside infrastructure, will allow airports to realize the benefits of NextGen.
NextGen will foster operational improvements, advances in technology and the development of sustainable alternative fuels that will allow us to reduce aviation’s environmental footprint even as our transportation system grows.
With NextGen, we also will seek to establish seamless operations beyond our borders. To do so, the FAA must work with international partners to harmonize standards, procedures, and air and space transportation policies worldwide.
Upgrading a system that manages an operation as intricate and complex as the NAS will require tremendous commitment and perseverance. NextGen’s success depends on the participation of a highly-trained workforce with the technical and operational expertise and the business acumen to continue to manage complex programs on time and on budget. Everyone who works in the system—researchers, engineers, program managers, policy makers, pilots, controllers, dispatchers and technicians—each and every discipline has a role and a stake in NextGen. NextGen offers tremendous career opportunities for those who want to lead this chapter in aviation history.
The 2009 New Technologies Workshop IV "Future Flight Technologies The Wings of NextGen" will take place on September 16-17, 2009. The event will be held at Sheraton National Hotel 900 South Orme Street, Arlington, VA 22204 Phone: (703) 521-1900 (For information on the agenda)
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