It’s clear that the final release of the FAA’s Authorization Act has given a new fillip to the agency’s NextGen implementation activity. The 2012 Plan, released in March, has a much more upbeat flavor than its 2011 predecessor, which essentially looked backwards at accomplishments in 2010, when most activities were still in their early stages. Back then, the potential future benefits of NextGen were just that–potential. Now, the 2012 Plan reports on significant progress in operational implementations over the previous 12 months, when users started to obtain actual benefits, and the plan will doubtless provide more community confidence that NextGen is going to do all–or at least most–of the things it originally promised.
For example, the 2011 Plan outlined the intention to begin the ADS-B ground station network in that year. More than 300 stations were up and running by the end of last year, with the balance of the eventual 700-plus stations forecast to be installed by early 2014. Waas LPV progress was also encouraging, with 354 procedures published last year, making a total of almost 2,800 covering 1,400 airports now available.
It’s estimated that 30 percent of the general aviation fleet is now equipped for LPVs–that is, with GPS plus Waas–but no estimates are available for ADS-B out, presumably because installations aren’t mandated until faraway 2020. (Not mentioned in the 2012 Plan were ADS-B out’s other distractions such as its debatable user benefits, plus the anticipated technology advances over the next eight years that could cut the price of ADS-B out and possibly make the infinitely more useful ADS-B in more affordable.) Interestingly, too, the 2012 Plan describes the operational difference between the ADS-B out and in modes, showing the benefits of in during various flight phases, which previous plans hadn’t.
The 2012 Plan emphasizes that performance-based navigation (PBN) capabilities will be an essential part of future NAS operations, and PBN procedures are now being issued almost routinely. Last year, 49 new GPS Rnav routes were published, including for the first time two helicopter routes between New York City and Washington. In addition, 51 RNP authorization required (AR) approach procedures–the most demanding procedures to design and obtain approval–were issued for use by qualified operators. PBN procedures are now well established in standard terminal arrival routes (Stars) with 288 incorporating optimized profile descents (OPDs), on which idle power is maintained from top of descent (TOD) to final approach.
A variant of the OPD introduced in 2011 is the tailored arrival (TA), intended mainly for aircraft arriving off oceanic crossings, and not specifically linked to a fixed, Stars-like routing. The TA is traffic dependent, where ATC assigns the path of the idle power descent from the TOD relative to other inbound aircraft, and sends it to the aircraft crew via the satellite-based future air navigation system (Fans) datalink, where it is displayed on the aircraft’s FMS for crew acceptance or negotiation. While still regarded as legacy equipment, and to be replaced by the future aeronautical telecommunications network (ATN) once the troubled Eram ATC computer system is fixed in three to five years (AIN December, page 1), Fans is the only currently approved and internationally accepted aviation datalink and is in wide use, particularly over the Pacific. In 2011, the first FAA TAs were declared operational at Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami, with Anchorage and the Travis and Andrews AFBs among those being considered for 2012 introduction.
Before 2009 there was little FAA consultation with the user community at large, and the changes that were made in FAA plans were made in response to the specialized needs of specific user groups. The first all-industry consultation process occurred in 2009, following the FAA’s first NextGen implementation plan. That six-month effort generated a number of user-proposed changes, particularly from corporate operators whose aircraft carried avionics having much more capability than most airliners. As a result, the FAA made significant improvements to the plan.
The user consultation process was then adopted in early 2011 by a smaller NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC) composed of senior industry and government executives. The 2012 NextGen Plan includes the 17 NAC recommendations, several of which were multi-part statements, along with the FAA’s responses. These are too lengthy to be included here, and most are primarily airline-centric. However, one of the first recommendations concerned incentives for the carriage of advanced technology equipment, where corporate aircraft are clearly industry leaders. That exchange follows.
NAC: The FAA should make incentives available for aircraft that are first to be equipped but cannot reap benefits for lack of a critical mass of equipage, and for operators who have equipped but are not attaining the intended benefits. Where possible, the FAA should prioritize operational incentives over financial incentives.
FAA: FAA supports operational incentives and will give them priority. The FAA Reauthorization Act…authorizes us to establish a financial incentives program. FAA is studying this new authority.
Elsewhere in the 2012 Plan, the agency states, “For operational incentives, often referred to as the best-equipped, best-served concept, the FAA would establish procedures by which operators equipped for and capable of using a specific NextGen improvement would receive advantages over and above the benefits that result directly from the improvement itself.” The statement is a little opaque, but one assumes the intent is equally positive.
Following what has therefore become valuable standard practice, in 2012 the FAA chartered an Aviation Rulemaking Committee to recommend the most appropriate strategy to introduce ADS-B in across the NAS. The Committee’s report, submitted in September 2011, essentially stated that neither the ADS-B in avionics nor its full supporting infrastructure was sufficiently developed to justify either an early mandate or a satisfactory operator business case for investment, and suggested that a mandate might not be appropriate much before 2028. The FAA has not released its response to the ARC report, quite possibly because the wording of the agency’s recent reauthorization specifically calls for an ADS-B in mandate in 2012, which, according to the ARC specialists, would be most inappropriate. Perhaps the FAA is still seeking a way to get out from under the Congressional imperative
What’s Ahead in NextGen?
Simply put, a lot. Forty-three of the implementation plan’s 102 pages set out, in individual detail, each of the large number of operational improvements (OIs), large and small, that will progressively build NextGen this year and over the years ahead. It is an impressive list, complete with implementation timelines.
The FAA is to be congratulated on its parallel publication of a separate, 16-page supplement to the main plan document, titled Operator and Airport Enablers, that tells working pilots pretty much all they really need to know about NextGen avionics.
NextGen now seems firmly en route and, with money now in the bank, the FAA has nowhere to go but up.
Read the complete NextGen Implementation Plan at: