NextGen Panel: ‘We’ve Got To Move On This’

 - August 1, 2013, 1:38 AM
ALPA International president Lee Moak, second from right, makes a point during a discussion of NextGen funding. (Photo: Paul Lowe)

Several decades ago there was an advertisement with three elderly ladies in a fast-food joint. They look at a burger and ask, “Where’s the beef?”

One panelist at a NextGen symposium hosted by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) International and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (Natca) in late June suggested that selling NextGen to the end users may present a similar perception problem. “Where is the hype?” he asked. “I just don’t see the hype.”

Another participant told an anecdotal story about an airline pilot who announced to his passengers that new air traffic procedures had allowed him save more than 400 gallons of fuel on their flight. He received a round of applause from the cabin.

Although NextGen is now in the execution phase, “nothing is moving as quickly as we would like,” said panelist Steve Dickson, a senior vice president of flight operations for Delta Air Lines. “We have to tell the story more effectively.”

Diverse panels of aviation stakeholders spelled out their viewpoints on whether the nation’s now-under-construction air traffic management system should be moving along faster or maybe even not at all.

But Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), chairman of the House of Representatives aviation subcommittee, warned attendees at the symposium in Washington, D.C., “This is an undertaking we’ve got to move on.” Failure to do so could have “a devastating effect” on the U.S.’s worldwide leadership in aviation, the 10-term congressman said in his keynote address. The FAA Technical Center in Atlantic City, N.J., is located in his congressional district.

Capt. Lee Moak, president of ALPA International, seconded what LoBiondo said. “Our nation must move quickly if we are to maintain our leadership,” he said. “The time to move forward is right now.”

Calling for more NextGen products, he stated that the entire ATC system must switch from “first come, first served” to “best equipped, best served.” And Moak and others also emphasized that for NextGen to succeed it needs consistent, long-term funding.

Hurdles Ahead

Paul Rinaldi, president of Natca, said that pilots and controllers “are actually talking about what we need,” but sequestration is going to have a tremendous effect on NextGen. He contended that NextGen was never really explained to everyone involved, yet “It is happening now, not in 2020 or 2025.”

NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen urged stakeholders to take a careful approach in recommending funding and other structural reforms to the world’s leading aviation system.

“We have seen many economic, social and global challenges over the past 15 to 20 years, and we have continued to be the leader of the world’s largest, most diverse and sophisticated air transportation system,” Bolen said during a panel discussion about NextGen modernization funding issues. “We need to be careful that we preserve what makes the U.S. aviation system so great and unique,” he said, noting that America’s vibrant business aviation community is among those leadership factors.

Panelists described the difficulties facing NextGen efforts in the uncertain funding environment created by the budgetary sequester. Despite the many challenges facing U.S. aviation, panelists agreed that industry stakeholders are moving in the right direction by convening discussions about reasonable approaches to reform funding for important programs such as NextGen.

Nicholas Calio, president and CEO of Airlines for America (A4A), pointed out that a national policy approach is needed to “treat the industry as the strategic asset that it is for the nation.” Such a national policy should include a fresh look at the tax and regulatory structure and how to provide adequate, steady funding for NextGen. In addition, it should also include a restructuring of the FAA itself in light of global aviation competition.

Although NBAA has often clashed with A4A (formerly the Air Transport Association) in the past over user fees, Bolen echoed Calio’s comments, suggesting that “helping make aviation a national priority is fundamental for all of us. The aviation system is vital to the nation’s global economic leadership and jobs growth, and the business aviation industry is an essential component of that.”

 

Comments

Gramps's picture

Yes, we need some NextGen ATC but spending money on it now, before we have the runways we need to serve the traffic, is foolish.

NextGen will only expedite traffic to the destination holding pattern.

Dan's picture

How is this any different what we have heard for last 10 years!?

ceeoh's picture

It is called "runway acceptance rate."

NextGen will provide more fuel efficient routes and reduce the enroute flying time to destination airports. What then?

Aircraft will have to transition from the enroute phase to the terminal phase. At this time more aircraft, will be vying for spot in the terminal airspace, thereby increasing the likelihood there will be holding. Why?

As Gramps said, it's all about runways. Only one aircraft can occupy the runway at a time; that includes departures as well as arrivals.

So a large volume of aircraft have arrived at their destination airport's terminal area only to be put into holding because there aren't enough runways to accept the influx of arrivals; and departures still need to get airborne.

All that time and the fuel savings just disappeared.

So, building more runways, or expanding/building reliever airports is necessary for NextGen to work on a large scale. However, many of the major destination airports are land-locked and unable to expand due to a plethora of obstacles, including residents' oppositions and government restrictions.

I wish I knew the answers, I could become a highly-paid consultant.

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