So is NextGen really NextGen?

This is the ninth in a series of articles looking at the impact of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) on GA pilots.

What the heck is this all about? NextGen really not NextGen?

Over the course of the last 10 months we have reviewed quite a few navigation techniques that always brought something new to the table. It could be in hardware, procedures, rules, or even just seat of the pants know how. Each and every addition added improvements in safety, efficiency, or speed.

So were these previous developments considered NextGen? You bet they were. The point we have been trying to drive home is that the latest NextGen will not be nor will ever be the last NextGen. There will be others — and the younger people just getting their wings will no doubt see more changes to the National Airspace System (NAS).

So how did we adapt? How did we make these shifts and changes along the way?

It began with bonfires, evolving to lights and towers and more. We went from an archaic visual system to radio Nav with Four Course, ADFs, NDBs, VORs, and GPS with WAAS. Have we not adapted to these new systems? Were there not new rules as these systems came to life and expanded? Without a doubt, the answer to all these questions is yes and we did it because it made things better. Was there moaning and groaning? Yep, we call those growing pains.

So let’s look at some details and drill into the bowels of all this to see just what it means for general aviation.

Let’s start with the components of NextGen:

  • ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast). This is the big enchilada. This one thing will bring all the goodies in.
  • SWIM (System Wide Information Management). This just makes sure everyone knows what everyone else is doing.
  • NNEW (NewGen Network Enabled Weather). Live Weather, a bone thrown into the mix of goodies. This is free!
  • Next Gen Data Communications. Text messaging and data providing a historical prospective of communication data.
  • NVS (NAS Voice Switch). New and improved voice switches.
  • Approach and Procedures, including more smaller airports that could never have these benefits.

In addition to all this we will get:

  • True traffic avoidance
  • Terrain overviews
  • Flight information by way of TIS-B and FIS-B
  • NOTAMs and TFRs
  • Improved ATC traffic flow management
  • Better VFR Flight Following
  • IFR separation even in non-radar airspace
  • Flight tracking, including a faster and more accurate search and rescue response.

So what red flags come up with all this in GA? The big one is money. It will cost for these upgrades. Have we done it before? Sure we have, and there are ways to do it all over again.

When we talk money, we talk hardware and, whether you like it or not, the market has much to do in driving that, much as it did in another industry: Television.

Do you have a flat panel TV set yet? Are you watching high definition television yet? Don’t fool yourselves — all of you are. I know it because I was part of that expansion and I can tell you the FCC did a great job in getting this deployed with little to no pain. There was a bit of an inconvenience due to delays, but other than that it was smooth sailing.

If there were any remnants to this big change, it was with the participants, not the system. Those who didn’t care would be happy watching some game show in black and white on a round picture tube, but anyone who gave a hoot respected this NextGen in home entertainment and its technology. What do you think the big fear was at the very beginning? Here we go again: Money.

Again, when we talk money, we talk the market place. It was the market place that really drove HDTV and the same will happen to NextGen. More marketing leads to more interest, more interest leads to more sales, and more sales means more R&D. All of this brings prices down.

With that in mind, I decided to ask Rick Garcia, president of Gulf Coast Avionics (GCA), about this very issue.

Jeff: Rick, how does GCA judge new technologies like NextGen?

Rick: We put a tremendous effort in keeping up with new technologies. NextGen is the future for the NAS. We need these skills and resources in order for companies like GCA to be proactive with these new advancements.

Jeff: Will GCA sell both certified and non-certified ADS-B products?

Rick: Yes, we already are There is a need for both types of products due to the wide demographic within the general aviation sector, both from performance and cost.

Jeff: What comes first when deciding on products like ADS-B?

Rick: Performance and specification traditionally sets the bar first for its acceptance as a product in GCA, and then, of course, costs. We continually work at getting a wide assortment of products to fit every budget.

Come to think of it, how many of you GA pilots out there don’t have some kind of GPS? This includes all handheld units. Not many. Why? Because the market saw this coming and, in order to compete, these products hit us like bullets.

So as we dive into the latest NextGen system, let’s not think about the dollars and cents just yet. The verdict is still out on that, so we need to keep moving forward. Next month we will provide the backbone of ADS-B and take it from there. Stay tuned.

 

Jeffrey Boccaccio is a private pilot and chief engineer at MatchBox Aeronautical Systems. You can reach him at NextGen@GeneralAviationNews.com or Jeff@Matchbox-Systems.com.

 

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