The FAA expressed enthusiasm about the RTCA’s final report of its NextGen Mid-Term Implementation Task Force released last week. The recommendations focus on five operational areas: surface, runway access, congested metropolitan airspace, cruise and National Airspace System access. They also encompass two specific NextGen capabilities: automated digital communications and integrated air traffic management.
Joint Planning and Development Office
A bipartisan group of senators on Tuesday introduced a two-year FAA reauthorization bill that speeds up the timetable for implementation of the NextGen ATC system but does not call for user fees. That means, at least for now, general aviation will continue to pay its share of FAA programs and ATC modernization through modestly higher fuel taxes, as opposed to a new system of user fees that the Obama Administration wants in Fiscal Year 2011.
Congress seems to be getting fed up with the slow pace of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) rollout. When NextGen was publicly announced in 2004 by then-Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, 2025 was often mentioned as the target date by which all of the expected benefits would become available to users.
Air Transport Association president and CEO James May suggested last month that if the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) is fast-tracked like the Interstate Highway System was a half century ago, many of the promised benefits could be fully operational within five years.
After many months of apparent silence, there is action on the NextGen front. But the program is progressing in a way that is different from most previous FAA initiatives. On January 30, the agency released its NextGen Implementation Plan, covering the “mid term” from 2012 to 2018. The FAA stated the plan had two purposes.
The House aviation subcommittee held a hearing last month on an FAA reauthorization bill that is essentially a reintroduction of the “FAA Reauthorization Act of 2007,” which the full House of Representatives approved in September 2007. That legislation died at the end of last year because the Senate never followed through with its FAA reauthorization proposals.
In a rare show of unanimity, the Air Transport Association has joined with general aviation and others in lobbying Congress for a $4 billion stimulus package that could jumpstart NextGen and provide many of its benefits during President Barack Obama’s first term.
The focus of the NextGen Air Transportation System has largely been on the development of satellite-based navigation systems, trajectory-based operations and the various technologies that will form the underlying structure of the nation’s future ATC system. But NextGen’s success is not dependent upon new procedures and inventions.
A September ICAO NextGen/Sesar Forum in Montreal underscored the fact that the U.S. and Europe are following different paths to a future air traffic management system. Officials managing the FAA’s NextGen and Europe’s Sesar–for Single European Sky ATM Research–agree that by 2025 traffic is expected to double, and maybe even triple, and that today’s control systems will not be able to handle the increase.
In Daytona Beach, just 60 miles northeast of the Orange County Convention Center here in Orlando, the NextGen testbed facility at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is playing an important role in advancing air traffic control modernization. It’s a place where the politics of who will pay for ATC modernization can be placed to the side while researchers figure out how to make the various components of NextGen work together.