FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt says convincing operators to equip their aircraft for NextGen is a big issue, which is one of the reasons why the NextGen Advisory Committee has a lot of industry representation on it, including NBAA and AOPA.
“I think there is a business case for it,” the former airline pilot and labor leader told AIN in a telephone interview just days before the NBAA convention. “Remember that when we go in 2020, when everybody is required to have ADS-B OUT, that’s clearly an obligation and one whose cost, I believe, will come down dramatically as the units come into mass production.”
The other aspect of mandatory equipage is that operators can get rid of other navigational equipment onboard as they transition to GPS-based navigation, and as ADS-B is used for surveillance.
“You improve situational awareness, and I think in the long run you are going to save money,” he said. “We are on a very high-profile path to make certain that we’ve got approaches where people–not just from the metroplex areas, but from lots of small airports–are getting GPS-type approaches so that they can do LPVs. These will give them lateral and vertical guidance to an airport, improving safety and, in some cases, provide access to an airport that otherwise would have no approach facility.”
One of the reasons the NextGen Advisory Committee was formed is to make certain that the path the FAA is pursuing for NextGen is what the industry wants. There are options and there is a flow order to consider.
“We elected to put ADS-B into the Gulf [of Mexico] for a good reason,” Babbitt said. “It’s a huge return. Operators there move 10,000 people a day in and out of rigs in the Gulf. The number of people moved there every day is phenomenal and the amount of traffic there is so much safer.
“We knew we would get a big return on our investment. You can talk to the helicopter folk [about] their fuel savings, their time savings and their ability to go direct now instead of through the grids. It’s been a wonderful cooperation and partnership between the industry on the civil side and the federal government. What’s next? Help us put the things in place that the industry will use more quickly and get benefit from quickly.”
Continuous Descent Approaches
Another component of NextGen is continuous descent approaches, and AIN asked whether these approaches are airport specific, airplane specific or a combination.
“They are sort of a layering combination,” Babbitt said. “As a generic name I would call them continuous descent profile; optimized profile descent. There’s a variation called tailored arrival, but let’s just call it optimized profile descents. Yes, they are airport specific because you need a procedure.” Again, following the path of where there will be the biggest return, Atlanta was a natural, he said, and the FAA also got a great deal of experience in Seattle because of its high volume of traffic.
“You need an airport that has, or will need, some type of standard instrument arrival–a STAR,” Babbitt said. “So you take the STAR and add to it the optimized profile. In order to do a true optimized profile, on the third leg of this little journey you’ve got to have an airplane that understands how to manage its own energy. You’ve got to have an airplane that has vertical descent capabilities in the autopilot. So you say to the autopilot: I want to arrive at such-and-such a fix eight miles from the airport; I want to arrive at that at 3,000 feet and I want to be going 200 knots–and you program it. And you say, by the way, pull the throttles back at the last possible moment. That’s the optimized profile. Down it comes. It’ll follow that profile, throttles go to idle. It’s energy management. You want to stay up high as long as possible.”
Asked about the long-delayed FAA reauthorization, Babbitt said he wants to focus Congress on the need for a multi-year bill. “The shutdown put a big bright light on it when we went without an extension and had to furlough 4,000 employees and do the other things that we had to,” he said. “That had a long-lasting, negative impact. It was expensive and there were consequences. And now we have that debate. Many people understand there are negative consequences to not funding for a long period of time–a four- or five-year reauthorization.”
As case in point, Babbitt said, any new project the FAA would start now would have only four months of funding that the agency knows about. “That could be taken away from us,” he explained. “So who’s going to start a two-year project, or design a two- or five-year project, or a 10-year plan for runway renewals across the country? Who’s going to start a project like that when they have only two, three or four month’s worth of money. If you did, it could be stopped and you would have wasted all that money.”