The U.S. FAA has asked the committee advising it on implementation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) to outline more specifically the steps needed to begin ATC modernization.
Nine months after the FAA enlisted it to analyze “business case” barriers to investment in new avionics, the NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC) issued its recommendations in late September. The high-level group chaired by JetBlue Airways CEO Dave Barger said it would prefer direct government grants to spur equipage, but it acknowledged that a public-private loan program would prove the more feasible approach to kick-starting NextGen.
The committee called on the FAA to develop operational performance metrics to clarify the benefits associated with certain capabilities, such as required navigation performance (RNP), and to establish clear timelines and priorities for delivering on those capabilities. It said the FAA should provide operational or financial incentives to operators that equip first.
Michael Huerta, FAA deputy administrator and the agency’s point man on NextGen, called for more direction. “We know we need a combination of financial and operational incentives; the question is what are they? Those conversations become very localized very fast,” said Huerta, the NAC’s designated federal official. “Recognizing that we have a very large country and a very complex [ATC] system, what is the appropriate way to frame how we actually act on these [recommendations]? For an operating agency and a regulatory agency such as ours, how do we build a work program to deliver these things? My urging would be to focus on high-level specificity and prioritization” to allow the FAA to act on the recommendations.
The NAC did provide sharper estimates of industry’s cost to equip in the areas of communications, navigation and surveillance. The first area–datalink communications with ATC–depends on the datalink standard chosen, and applies to Part 121 carriers and high-end business jets. Assuming use of FANS 1/A+ datalink communications already employed in oceanic airspace, the cost to the fleet in 2020 would total $1.3 billion. The NAC has recommended navigation capability of RNP 0.3 with curved, or radius-to-fix (RF) flight legs, already achievable by 41 percent of airliners. That would cost the fleet in 2020 $2.6 billion. All aircraft must equip for automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) “Out” capability by 2020, costing airlines $900 million, or $59,000 to $312,000 per aircraft.