The FAA Progress And
Challenges In Developing And Transitioning To Nextgen
By Daniel Baxter
October 9, 2011 - On Wednesday, the Inspector General testified before the House Subcommittee on Aviation regarding the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) progress and challenges in developing and transitioning to the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen).
The Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen)
is the name given to a new National Airspace System due
for implementation across the United States in stages
between 2012 and 2025.
The Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen)
proposes to transform America?s air traffic control
system from an aging ground-based system to a
satellitebased system. NextGen GPS technology will be
used to shorten routes, save time and fuel, reduce
traffic delays, increase capacity, and permit
controllers to monitor and manage aircraft with greater
Inspector General identified three challenges that will impact
the FAA?s ability to manage NextGen?s implementation and realize
its benefits; addressing concerns with the FAA?s timely
execution of recommendations in five critical areas, resolving
technical and program management problems with the En Route
Automation Modernization (ERAM) program, and managing program
costs and schedules with NextGen?s transformational programs.
Inspector General noted that delays in addressing key task force
recommendations could discourage industry investment in NextGen.
In addition, ongoing problems with ERAM?s implementation have
caused significant delays that impact the cost and pace of
NextGen, and total costs, schedules, and benefits remain
uncertain for NextGen?s transformational programs.
Inspector General highlighted three management areas that the
FAA must focus on now to advance NextGen and protect taxpayers'
interests; (1) NextGen budget priorities, detailed milestones,
and performance goals and metrics; (2) problems with ERAM; and
(3) an integrated master schedule for all NextGen programs.
To accomplish NextGen?s long-term goals, Congress mandated in 2003 that the FAA establish the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) and create a plan for implementing NextGen by 2025.2While the FAA?s initial planning focused on this timeframe, it has more recently emphasized near- and mid-term initiatives.
commitments from both Government and industry, the FAA asked RTCA 3to
examine the NextGen operational improvements planned for the 2012?2018
timeframe and help develop business cases to support and implement
mid-term capabilities. In September 2009, the RTCA task force delivered
its final report to the FAA, which identified the following key issues:
? Users are
willing to support the FAA communications, navigation, and surveillance
infrastructure programs that require user investments only if those
programs provide a clear and unambiguous path to immediate and tangible
benefits to the users.
? Focusing on
delivering near-term operational benefits, rather than on the entire
infrastructure, would help gain operator confidence in the FAA plans and
encourage users to invest in NextGen. A key element for accomplishing
this is obtaining industry and The FAA agreement on common metrics to
responsibility, accountability, authority, and funding within the Agency
is critical to accomplish all associated and necessary
non-infrastructure tasks (i.e., development of procedures and policy)
and to achieve NextGen benefits.
The task force
made 32 recommendations across areas to take advantage of existing
technologies and on-aircraft equipment. These recommendations were
intended to quickly generate user benefits, support cross-cutting
improvements to air traffic management and communications, and encourage
operator investment and confidence within the aviation community in the
FAA?s ability to implement new capabilities.
addressing key task force recommendations could discourage industry
investment in NextGen. The FAA has primarily focused its efforts on one
of the most critical areas?improving airspace efficiency around major
cities. However, it has not defined when users will benefit from the
As a result,
industry representatives have expressed concerns over the FAA?s
execution with this and related projects?which will ultimately make them
reluctant to invest in NextGen equipage and advance NextGen at key
locations. Delays with this and other NextGen initiatives are likely to
continue since The FAA has not made critical, longer term design
decisions on NextGen ground and aircraft systems.
The FAA Is
Responding to Task Force Recommendations but has made only limited
progress in key areas. The FAA is addressing the RTCA recommendations,
but its efforts are delayed in key areas, such as metroplex initiatives,
surface operations, and data communications .
The FAA has made
the most progress in this area. The FAA has identified 21 metroplex
sites, developed a method to prioritize them, and completed 5 studies.
However, a lack of available staffing and development of the metroplex
project plan delayed the design and implementation phases for the first
Operations - Improve management of airport taxiways, gates, and parking
areas. Surface demonstration studies ongoing but not integrated with The
FAA?s metroplex plans. After 18 months, The FAA is just now establishing
an office for a single point of responsibility for surface.
Runway Access -
Improve the use of converging or closely spaced runways during low
visibility conditions. The FAA adopted the task force dates and
locations for closely spaced parallel operations projects but has not
defined locations and dates for key recommendations (e.g., a precision
surveillance system for runways and a new automated tool to maximize
benefits of routes).
Cruise - Improve high-altitude flight by better using available airspace
to increase capacity and reduce delays. The FAA has not integrated an
automated controller tool for managing aircraft with other Traffic Flow
Management tools. The task force wants this completed in 2011, but The
FAA?s target date is 2014.
Communications (DataComm) - Enable more efficient use of available or
forecast capacity. The FAA has already delayed this capability 2 years
from 2016 to 2018. Industry needs assurance that the implementation date
for en route services is solid.
The FAA has not
made the decisions needed to move nextgen from planning to
implementation. Task force industry representatives want the FAA to move
from NextGen planning and demonstration to actual implementation.
However, this will be difficult in terms of making the internal Agency
changes required for a new system as well as defining longer term plans
First, the FAA
faces significant organizational, policy, logistical, and training
challenges. For example, to successfully complete its planned actions,
the FAA will have to work across its diverse agency lines of business,
but this has been difficult in the past.
As we testified in
July 2009, organizational barriers and fragmented efforts hindered The
FAA?s process to approve new flight procedures the FAA has not yet
addressed critical decisions that affect the cost and schedule of
These include (1)
what new capabilities will reside in the aircraft or in The FAA?s
ground-based automation systems, (2) the level of automation for
controllers that can realistically and safely be achieved, and (3) the
number and locations of air traffic facilities needed to support
NextGen. All of these elements are crucial to the success of NextGen.
The FAA?s primary goals for NextGen, such as increasing airspace capacity and reducing flight delays, depend on successfully implementing ERAM?a $2.1 billion system for processing flight data. The FAA originally planned to complete ERAM by the end of 2010, but ERAM continues to experience software-related problems that have pushed schedules well beyond original completion dates and increased costs by hundreds of millions of dollars. ERAM?s problems are the result of a number of fundamental programmatic and contract management concerns, and prolonged problems will directly impact the cost and pace of NextGen.
The FAA has not fully addressed ads-b requirements and system risks. ADS-B is a satellite-based surveillance technology that combines the use of aircraft avionics and ground-based systems.
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