After weeks of concerns regarding the rollout of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Next Generation Air Transportation System, the agency announced an updated plan to accelerate the system’s delivery over the next three years.
The FAA has not yet made the plan available to the public, but said it will deliver it to Congress on Oct. 17. In the latest draft, according to a release from the FAA, the aviation industry and the FAA share the responsibility of meeting deadlines and rolling out several planned NextGen initiatives, including multiple runway operations, performance-based navigation and surface and data communications.
NextGen Deputy Administrator and Director Mike Whitaker said in a statement the new agreement establishes a clear path for the delivery of new capabilities over a defined time period.
“Today’s agreement lays out a clear path for the delivery of four of those capabilities and, more importantly, reflects what can be accomplished when industry and FAA work together,” Whitaker said. “The priorities outlined in this plan will deliver real benefits to the traveling public in the near-term, reducing flight delays, enhancing safety and increasing predictability.”
Under the updated plan, the FAA will put new NextGen procedures in place for multiple runway operations at 36 airports nationwide. The new procedures will cut down on delays and increase airport efficiency, the release said.
Airports in the Northern California, Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina, metropolitan areas will also deploy performance-based navigation — a satellite-based navigation procedure that will reportedly provide more direct flight paths and increase on-time arrival rates. Using PBN will also enhance controller productivity, increase safety and cut down on fuel costs and environmental impacts, the release said.
The FAA will begin to increase the amount of surface operations data sharing between airports and with aviation industry, which will allow the FAA to increase predictability and provide surface efficiency improvements at airports, according to the release.
Communications systems will also receive an upgrade — transitioning systems from voice-based to digital to allow better communications under inclement weather.
The new NextGen plan puts the onus on industry to ensure pilots are aware of the new runway and airspace procedures, the release said. The aviation sector must also equip its aircraft with data communications technology and collaborate with the FAA on performance-based navigation airspace redesign.
With the announcement of the updated NextGen plan, the FAA also released an independent study on NextGen’s progress, which was conducted by MITRE Corp. According to the report, the agency has made “substantial progress” toward achieving the NextGen foundation since 2008. The report also found that most of the spending on NextGen to date has been spent on infrastructure, while most of the transformational aspects of the project would occur in 2014.
MITRE also found that the FAA has made progress in enhancing operational capabilities and services for airports in metropolitan areas; however, the independent study found that the same capabilities have not been put in place in all aircraft — and perception about the FAA’s progress within the community is mixed.
The study also identified challenges the FAA will face before 2020 with operational transition, user adoption and technical maturity.
In a statement about the report, the FAA said the assessment was intended to determine where NextGen’s rollout is today and discover where it will go in the future.
“With a particular focus on the pre- and post-2020 time periods, MITRE looked broadly at the NextGen effort,” the statement from the FAA said. “They based their assessment on the FAA’s plans for the NextGen mid-term time period and considered progress to date, as well as documented plans for the future.”
Both MITRE and the FAA said although significant financial and technological challenges face the program, there are many areas where the agency must focus its efforts in order to get NextGen fully in place by 2020.
“As MITRE suggests, though, and the FAA agrees, NextGen success in the long term hinges not only on funding,” the statement from the FAA said. “The assessment and recommendations point to areas where improved training, national policies or clearer governance could improve the realization of NextGen benefits.”
In the report, MITRE looked at the different stages of technological development, but the full transition of certain technologies — for example, decision support tools for traffic flow management — into the NextGen system have not been fully optimized.
“The FAA commits to take a fresh look at those areas and consider appropriate actions,” the agency said.