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.
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.”