The FAA Progress And Challenges In Developing And Transitioning To Nextgen


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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 safety margins. 

The 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. 

The 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.   

The 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.


To solidify 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 measure benefits.  

? Assigning 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. 

Delays in 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 effort.  

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 two sites.  

Airport Surface 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).  

High-Altitude 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.  

Data 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 for NextGen.  

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 NextGen.  

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.


Capt. Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, Int?l (ALPA), also testified on Wednesday before the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure?s Subcommittee on Aviation hearing titled ?A Comprehensive Review of FAA?s NextGen Program: Costs, Benefits, Progress, and Management.?

?Today?s national airspace system simply cannot meet the demand for air transportation today much less what we expect to see in the future. As airline pilots, every day we experience an outmoded infrastructure and antiquated facilities and procedures. We grow increasingly frustrated that we have technology in the cockpits of our aircraft that we cannot use to its full advantage.

?NextGen technology is desperately needed because a truly modern air transportation system will ensure that the United States continues to set the world standard for safe and efficient air transportation and will foster a robust airline industry that strengthens our economy and provides jobs. Moreover, a modern air transportation system is necessary to position the United States to compete economically in the global air transportation arena.

?Our government needs to step up and assume leadership, make the required decisions to provide direction to industry, provide the resources necessary, and finally advocate globally on behalf of our industry. The safety, efficiency, and viability of our industry are just too important to our country.?

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