FAA embraces industry feedback on NextGen

 - February 18, 2010, 5:24 AM

The FAA last month responded to the RTCA Industry NextGen Implementation Task Force’s recommendations for the transition to NextGen. The agency had earlier invited the group–300 people recruited from all segments of the aviation industry–to propose optimum solutions to the mid-term, 2010 to 2018, transition to the full implementation of NextGen. The task force published its consensus recommendations last September. (See “RTCA report is a blueprint for NextGen,” AIN, October 2009, page 74.)
The group’s objective was not to rewrite, or even second guess, the overall NextGen plan, but rather to recommend opportunities to accelerate the transition where existing technologies could provide a performance-based bridge to NextGen programs still under development. A key consideration was recognizing the potential capabilities of equipment many operators already carry but underutilize, while avoiding mandates or unnecessarily requiring further operator investment.

“NowGen Next,” the title of the task force’s assignment from the FAA, underscores the agency’s sense of urgency about implementing the group’s recommendations.
The task force recommendations covered several specific equipage and procedural aspects in each of the five critical flight domains: surface movement; runway access; metroplex operations; cruise flight; and access to the NAS, along with the reasons supporting each recommendation. In addition, there were two cross-cutting recommendations–data communications and integrated air traffic management– that would affect all five, again with a discussion of their importance and application.

The task force made two “overarching” recommendations that were considered critical to the success in implementing the basic recommendations. These were the achievement of three- and five-mile separation standards and the development of methods to encourage equipage. Such methods include legislation, financial incentives or preferential treatment under a “best equipped, best served” ATC.

The FAA’s response was in general agreement with the task force’s views. Task force chairman Capt. Stephen Dickson of Delta Air Lines told AIN, “Conceptually, industry feels that the FAA has broadly embraced our recommendations.”

Task force officials were to provide a briefing to RTCA’s air traffic management advisory committee later last month after a detailed review of the FAA’s response. Dickson emphasized that the task force’s recommendations and the FAA’s response were simply the beginning, rather than the end, of the dialog between the two, which he expected to continue well into the future.

The FAA response document, on the agency’s Web site at www. faa.gov, is well laid out and easy to read. It sets out the separate task force recommendations in the flight domain sequence and the cross-cutting and overarching issues, and follows each with its response and planned action, which in some cases goes beyond the task force’s proposals. Each response is followed by a target date schedule for the planned actions, all of which seem commendably prompt. In fact, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt stated unequivocally in his introduction to the agency’s response document, “The Task Force recommendations add significant value to the FAA’s overall NextGen strategy and are being incorporated into our NextGen Implementation Plan, which summarizes the agency’s work to achieve the 2018 operational capabilities. The plan will be released in early March.”

The FAA’s new interest in industry consultation certainly bodes well for the betterment of all in civil aviation. For that, kudos goes to the agency and to the task force, whose work has clearly demonstrated the value of close industry involvement in planning the future.