Spotlight Shining on NextGen

 - July 24, 2007, 6:54 AM

Several recent developments have begun to allay concerns that the FAA’s NextGen ATC modernization effort was stagnating because of lack of direction and sense of urgency.

The NextGen Concept of Operations was released on June 13 and the NextGen Enterprise Architecture on June 22. The Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) considers the two documents to be major milestones in the development process.

The Concept of Operations, or ConOps, describes how the next generation air transportation system will work from an operational standpoint: how air traffic and airports are managed; how security is provided to protect airspace, cargo and people; how goals for protecting and enhancing the environment are achieved; and how processes in government and civil organizations will provide increased safety and efficiency. The ConOps provides a baseline to frame the partnership with the aviation stakeholder community to assess the concepts and to develop policy and research agendas.

The Enterprise Architecture is a structured and disciplined approach to the ConOps. Each segment contains specific details describing the operational activities, alignments, mappings, requirements and connections to the ConOps. The document defines the key capabilities of NextGen, how they fit together, the timing of their implementation and how they affect the aviation community. The JPDO calls the Enterprise Architecture a systems documentation of NextGen, roughly analogous to a builder’s plumbing and wiring diagrams.

The next JPDO milestone will be the Integrated Work Plan, which the agency planned to release on July 31. That document describes the transition from the current air traffic system to the future air transportation system, which will focus on traffic management rather than control. It illustrates how NextGen will be researched and developed, what commitments are required from the major development partners, what development and policy actions are necessary and what key decisions must be made along the way.

“The Concept of Operations describes the NextGen vision in a readable, prose format; the Enterprise Architecture serves as the blueprint for NextGen; and the Integrated Work Plan is the comprehensive multi-agency plan to achieve Next-Gen,” the JPDO said. “All three documents will be reviewed periodically and updated as necessary.” 

New Program Leadership
Last month FAA Administrator Marion Blakey announced at the Senate’s NextGen Day on Capitol Hill that her agency has created a new senior executive position to lead its renamed Operational Evolution Partnership (OEP), previously called the Operational Evolution Plan.

Blakey said the search for that executive, who will report directly to the COO of the FAA Air Traffic Organization, has already begun. “The OEP executive will be responsible for driving the implementation of NextGen at the FAA,” she said, “ensuring that things are fully integrated.”

Meanwhile, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has called for creation within the FAA of a position of FAA associate administrator for NextGen. According to John Douglass, president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), provisions in H.R.2882, the House FAA Reauthorization Bill, would jumpstart ATC modernization efforts and support vital facility upgrades.

Douglass said the committee-approved bill includes ample funding for NextGen and assigns accountability to the seven federal agencies involved in NextGen to ensure the program is progressing as it should. In May, AIA vice president for civil aviation Michael Romanowski told the House aviation subcommittee that failure to implement NextGen could cost the economy $50 billion per year by 2025.

In a related matter, the NGATS Institute named Charles Bergman, a former Air Force pilot with more than 16 years of experience in aviation, its new executive director. In his new role, he will be responsible for all operations of the NGATS Institute, which was created under an agreement between the FAA and the AIA’s National Center for Advanced Technologies in 2005. The institute provides a framework for stakeholder input into NextGen and the JPDO.

A graduate of the Air Force Academy, Bergman was a command pilot who led the largest B-52 unit, with more than 500 operations and maintenance personnel. He also served as the Air Force’s deputy chief of safety in the Pentagon with responsibility over flight, ground, weapons and space safety.

He retired from the Air Force in 2000 and joined the Air Line Pilots Association as a manager and staff engineer responsible for airports, air traffic and NextGen safety and operations. He moved onto the JPDO last year.

Noting that he has 4,200 hours in the cockpit, Blakey told the Capitol Hill gathering that Bergman knows the system. “In his new position, he’s going to team up with Charlie Leader [director of the JPDO] to ensure a robust private sector input into what the JPDO does,” she said. “And he’ll have Jim [May] and Phil [Boyer] on speed dial because they’ll be involved in every aspect of this endeavor as well.” May, president and CEO of the Air Transport Association, and AOPA president Boyer are co-chairmen of the NGATS Institute Management Council.