Just days after the failure of a last-minute attempt to attach an amendment for ATC reform into the FAA reauthorization bill, a panel at the Wings Club luncheon in New York City met to discuss how the aviation industry will move forward with implementation of the NextGen air traffic control system.
On the “Future of ATC and NextGen for Airlines and General Aviation in the Wake of Privatization Withdrawal” panel were AOPA president Mark Baker; NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen; Jeff Martin, JetBlue Airways executive v-p of operations; and Bailey Edwards, FAA assistant administrator for policy, international affairs, and environment. The panel was moderated by Aviation Week & Space Technology editor-in-chief Joe Anselmo.
“The opportunity now is to recalibrate,” said Bolen, pointing out that “the U.S. has the largest, safest, and most efficient and most diverse ATC system in the world. We move more planes than any other country on a per-runway, per-airport basis. We’ve got a system that is the envy of the world. Staying where we are now is not going to solve the problem.” With demand for the system to handle more flight operations and new technology that will see more drone and electric aircraft flying in the national airspace, he added, “We want to make sure we have the ground and airspace infrastructure to accommodate [those operations]. We need to focus on how to make the system better for everybody.”
With reduced research and development funding at the FAA, noted JetBlue’s Martin, “How do we figure out how to get protected funds for the FAA?”
AOPA president Baker called the FAA “the most balanced agency in the government,” noting that excise and fuel taxes bring in plenty of money, but figuring out how to disburse those funds is a big problem. “We have to figure out how to help the appropriator,” he said.
Lack of funding remains a key issue, said the FAA’s Edwards. “We’re still trying to deliver NextGen benefits, but that will depend on the cooperation of the aviation industry.”
Upgrading the U.S. fleet for the 2020 ADS-B Out mandate continues, and Baker said about 50,000 of the 180,000 aircraft in the U.S. are now equipped, although not all will require the capability as they won’t be flying in the mandate airspace. “I think we will see a lot higher adoption,” he said.
Although some airlines have delayed equipping for ADS-B Out, Martin said that JetBlue’s fleet will be done by 2020. “There is a lot of work [planned] in 2019.” He also welcomes another NextGen benefit that is already seeing more widespread use, Data Comm, which replaces voice radio calls with texting-like messaging between pilots and controllers. Properly equipped aircraft can now use this service for digital clearances at dozens of U.S. airports. “The money will follow if the return on investment is there,” he said. “Data Comm is a perfect example.”