Congress seems to be getting fed up with the slow pace of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) rollout. When NextGen was publicly announced in 2004 by then-Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, 2025 was often mentioned as the target date by which all of the expected benefits would become available to users.
But at a Senate aviation subcommittee hearing on NextGen in late March, Sen. John Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) lamented the lack of progress on NextGen. “I’m just losing patience,” he fumed.
“I strongly believe that modernizing our nation’s embarrassingly obsolete ATC system is the FAA’s highest priority,” the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chairman said.
Joe Kolshak, senior v-p of operations for United Airlines, told lawmakers that with leadership and investment, key elements and benefits of NextGen could be delivered in the next three to five years.
“The benefits of accelerating modernization of our ATC system are clear and compelling,” he said. “That’s why airlines, general aviation, business aviation and the military all agree on the need to jumpstart NextGen. The required implementation timetable is too long.”
T.K. Kallenbach, v-p of marketing and product management for Honeywell Aerospace, agreed. “2025 is simply unacceptable,” he told the Senate panel. He recommended accelerating the wide- scale deployment of available capabilities, including automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B), required navigation performance, continuous descent arrivals and the ground-based augmentation system.
While revitalization of airports via new or upgraded terminal buildings, taxiways and runways provides tangible evidence of congestion relief, the rest of the infrastructure–the “highways in the sky,” with the “on-ramps” and “off-ramps” that connect the nation’s airports–is more difficult to visualize.
“This virtual infrastructure, implemented via software and electronics instead of concrete and steel, demands equal attention as a national priority,” said Kallenbach.
Meanwhile, the FAA is well on its way to deploying the nationwide infrastructure needed to receive the ADS-B information and integrate it with controller displays. A ground network with associated service is expected to be fully deployed by 2013.
However, there is little incentive for aircraft operators to equip their fleets now since
the proposed rule for airborne equipage will not be fully effective until 2020.
Kallenbach testified that the U.S. requirement for ADS-B out capability should be accelerated at least to align with Europe’s proposed rule for all aircraft to have ADS-B out capability by 2015.
He said that to ensure an overall cost-benefit can be established, the FAA should be provided with the funding to equip the necessary aircraft with ADS-B out capability. This would greatly accelerate the benefits to the FAA, while jumpstarting a key NextGen enabler.
“With a fully deployed ADS-B out capability, the business case for user investments in the second step, ADS-B in, will be stronger and far easier to make,” said Kallenbach. “This capability is the key to capacity and safety improvements needed in the future.”