Air-taxi proponents want NextGen benefits sooner

 - April 1, 2008, 7:18 AM

A group of personal air transport providers has asked the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) to accelerate the pace of implementation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), currently scheduled to become fully operational by about 2025.

Former NBAA president Jack Olcott, now head of aviation consulting firm General Aero, told an “all hands” meeting of the JPDO in late February that members of the Personal Air Transportation Alliance (PATA) already operate within an environment that enables early implementation of NextGen technologies.

Among the principal members of PATA are DayJet, North American Jet, Pogo Jet and very light jet manufacturer Eclipse Aviation. Cessna Aircraft, Adam Aircraft (which filed bankruptcy papers in mid-February), Israel Aerospace Industries and Munro and Associates are listed as supporting members.

With DayJet and North American already operating, PATA’s mission is to identify, articulate and promote innovation in the concepts, processes and technologies that facilitate frequent and safe transportation using small aircraft from local airports.

According to Bob Pearce, JPDO deputy director, the White House Office of Management and Budget has issued Fiscal Year 2010 guidance declaring that a new ATC system (NextGen) is a priority. He also pointed to “significant” NextGen investments in President Bush’s FY2009 budget released early
in February.

The JPDO coordinates the efforts of the Departments of Transportation, Defense, Homeland Security and Commerce, as well as the FAA, NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology.

The Bush Administration said in its FY2009 budget submission that NextGen represents a long-term and continuing transformation of the National Air Transportation System and covers a period of nearly two decades.

“However, to achieve benefits in improved capacity and in the management and efficiency of air traffic in the nearer term, and certainly by 2015, certain key NextGen investments in new technologies and capabilities need to be made now,” the budget request said.

Olcott said that PATA’s strategic objectives are to pool its members’ knowledge and promote research that provides value to the air-taxi industry as the basis for a transportation system using small aircraft. The organization also wants to create public understanding of the value, safety and use of air-taxi as a reflection of transportation systems using small aircraft and local airports, as well as to facilitate air-taxi deployment by establishing links between new aircraft, expanded small airports and new air traffic system concepts.

Data generated by the PATA demonstration, Olcott said, will provide compelling arguments for implementation of Next-Gen technologies earlier than is currently planned. “PATA members are operating today as early adopters of aircraft capable of implementing NextGen technologies,” he told the gathering at NASA’s Washington headquarters.

Ken Ross, chairman of PATA and president of North American Jet Charter Group, said PATA operators are traditional charter operators using small aircraft such as VLJs. “We are asking for assistance and acceleration of NextGen [implementation],” he said, adding that in addition to DayJet’s per-seat on-demand model, several different models of personal air transportation will enter the market.

Carey Fagan, government co-chair of the JPDO Global Harmonization Working Group, said that the organization has been working with other nations to ensure the system’s interoperability with those of many other nations, especially the European Union, which is working on its Single European Sky ATM Research (Sesar). She said a NextGen/Sesar comparison study team has been established to ensure that the same aircraft can fly in both systems.

“The systems cannot be completely identical,” she said, “but must be closely aligned.” The JPDO also has a memorandum of understanding with China, a signed agreement with Japan and a NextGen Trilateral Strategy Group with Canada and Mexico.