Time to get familiar with NextGen

WASHINGTON, D.C. — It has been said by FAA officials that moving from the present air traffic control system to a satellite-based one is like trying to replace a flat tire on a car while it is speeding down the highway.

And while implementation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) may be behind schedule and over budget, it is moving along and pilots need to get familiar with it.

Seven new ADS-B (Automatic Dependence Surveillance– Broadcast) radio stations have become operational since October, bringing the total to 438.

ADS-B is a critical component of NextGen. It provides position coverage to aircraft with the proper equipment and to air traffic control by satellite. Equipped aircraft make it possible to have more aircraft operating in more congested areas.

With ADS-B, pilots and controllers can see radar-like displays of traffic that do not degrade with distance or terrain. It reduces the amount of airspace set aside for each aircraft, permitting more aircraft to be handled.

After years of research and development and use by general aviation pilots in Alaska and air carriers in the Ohio Valley, led by UPS, ADS-B was ready for implementation throughout the entire system, according to FAA officials, who note on the FAA website: “On Sept. 9, 2005, the FAA officially committed to moving toward establishing ADS-B as the basis for air traffic control in the future.”

Next area for activation was over the Gulf of Mexico. Thousands of flights now move to and from hundreds of gulf oil platform stations in clear and IFR conditions.

In early December 2012, the FAA teamed with the Colorado Department of Transportation to activate NextGen technology at Montrose Regional Airport (MTJ) in western Colorado. That technology is Wide Area Multilateration (WAM). It allows controllers to track aircraft in mountainous areas that are outside radar coverage, using a network of small sensors deployed in remote areas. Transponders receive and send back signals to these sensors.

Meanwhile, on the morning of Dec. 10, 2012, the System Wide Information Management (SWIM) Special Use Airspace (SUA) capability went operational, providing users with three new services: Static Definitions, Dynamic Definitions, and Special Activity Airspace (SAA) Editor.

The Static Definition Service provides information on the shape and legal definition of an airspace, and is installed on the NAS Resource system. The Dynamic Definitions Service provides information on the scheduling of airspace, and is installed in the SUA Management Systems (SAMS). The SAA Editor is a new tool used to create and modify SAAs.

Just a few days earlier, on Dec. 7, the System Wide Information Management (SWIM) Predeparture Reroute (PDRR) demonstrated Initial Operating Capability (IOC) at the Minneapolis Air Route Traffic Control Center. This enables traffic management coordinators to use a single system to coordinate and send reroute information to towers handling departure flights, FAA officials explained. SWIM will enable towers to identify any flight affected by weather or other route obstructions.

Another piece of the puzzle activated in December allows pilots flying all types of aircraft to be able to reach more runways in low visibility conditions. The Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) now exceeds 3,000 Localizer Performance with Vertical guidance (LPV) approaches. At more than half of these — 1,500 — this vertical guidance system can direct aircraft to as low as 200 feet above the runway. With WAAS, pilots can use GPS from takeoff through the equivalent of a category 1 instrument landing. More than 60,000 aircraft are now certified to use WAAS.

Because of criticism by various groups involved in the NextGen program that there was not a sharp focus on where NextGen was impacting the airspace system, the FAA is now reporting a wide range of data for specific performances in specific locations.

The FAA has an Office of NextGen with an assistant administrator in charge, a position currently vacant because of the retirement of Victoria Cox.

As NextGen moves toward full implementation, the new capabilities and benefits will grow across the country — at major airports and general aviation airports that serve not only personal and business flights, but are important for safety flights, like law enforcement, rescue, and medical aircraft.

While NextGen seems to be moving along well now, government finances will dictate if that continues. Negotiations about the nation’s debt ceiling and sequestration are coming up in a matter of weeks, which will dictate the speed of NextGen advances.


  1. Harrison Freer says

    This article is mis-leading, as the term “satellite based” refers to sending GPS satellite derived position versus the current secondary radar derived position. The article says ADS-B sends the data to air traffic control by satellite, which is incorrect. It sends it via the ground towers mentioned. One of the beauties of ADS-B use of GPS not mentioned is precise position is available to ATC even when not in “radar coverage,” which should allow GA to operate safely at lower altitudes and deconflict easier with the heavies.

    • Terry D Welander says

      It takes a turbo charger and oxygen to get above 18,000 feet in any general aviation aircraft. Or less than 10% of the GA fleet operates above 18,000, probably less than 2% regularly; which is almost no interaction with heavies except at international airports. So your premise, concern, and interest in deconfliction does not exist. With less than 10% of the GA operating above 12,500 feet and not generally capable of going above this altitude, the need for any type of ADS-B outside of international airports at low altitude will never exist; probably not in several life times. Get the facts, and just stop pushing this ADS-B foolishness in low altitude non metro airspace.

      And even if you subtract off the two dozen international airport airspaces, the rest of low altitude airspace is over 99% of the total. As stated other places, no GA pilot I know needs or wants ADS-B or any type of government interference in travel. You only need to listen to flight following to know what a mess it is already. So no GA pilot has any interest in flight following either, unless there is an actual emergency, which is incredibly rare in flying. GA flying is 3 to 10 times safer than driving depending on whose numbers you are looking at.

      Except at international airports, the very high fundamental reliability built into all aircraft coupled to good judgement says ADS-B is a distraction; worse, an expensive, malicious and foolish distraction; brought on by people who are not small aircraft general aviation pilots; and who have not spoken with any legacy small aircraft general aviation pilots who know how to get around safely, and do not want or need the government’s help.

      Other than for the government to stay the hell out of the way; the best way to minimize all the incredible and beyond huge waste being generated by government; or how Rome and every civilization of any consequence has turned into dust; from beyond huge waste, is the smartest long term course of action.

      Start here. Do not let this ADS-B happen. There is absolutely no need for it outside international airports; proven by the thousands of GA pilots who have been using low altitude airspace for over 70 years.

      In my multi decades of flying, I can recall reading of one mid air aircraft collision in N.
      Colorado, if TCAS had either been in place or in use, it would have prevented the collision. As someone who has tried to stay informed over the years, one small aircraft cross country mid air collision in 70 years is not worth addressing; especially when there is this TCAS technology in existence for anyone to install or have installed where they have any concern at all for other aircraft in their flying vicinity.

      Protect the legacy GA fleet from these ignorant, offensive, and thoughtless incursions from peddlers wanting to sell something; called ADS-B in this instance.

  2. Joe Newman says

    I look at nexgen as just one more tool to use.relying only on one tool can have some bad outcome to those flying in imc..the other problem I see is the high cost to upgrade to this system.it will be great for the compony that sell this .but for some aircraft owners it will out cost the airplane.

    • Charles Lloyd says


      See reply to Terry below.
      We have seven years to get ready for NexGen. It’s the glass half full syndrome. If an owner does not do anything then the aircraft has virtually no value. The alternative is to take the one bite at a time between now and January 2020. Find a good shop that will install a used Garmin WAAS 430. Then install a $3995 ADS-B unit or wait for the possibility of a less expensive unit -I don’t see how they can get cheaper and provide all the functions.

      • Terry D Welander says

        Seems to me the floor for ADS-B is above 10,500 ft msl or above 3,000 ft agl.
        And I have urged the FAA to harmonize these values with the oxygen requirement
        going to 12,500 ft msl and 14,000 ft msl up to 30 minutes.

        If this harmonization is done, the floor of ADS-B will be at or near the service ceiling of legacy aircraft, negating the need for ADS-B in any legacy aircraft; unless an owner actually desires ADS-B as an add on.

        I, and no legacy owner I know desire the use of ADS-B; and strongly urge you to
        get involved and insure legacy aircraft are left out of ADS-B; unless they are
        based at or desire to be based at a highly busy tower airport/international airport. Meaning only the international airports with high commercial air traffic need ADS-B. The rest of us do not need ADS-B, no matter how nice it might be to have ADS-B.

        So biting figurative bullets to accomplish something not really needed except at a handful of locations is worse than offensive. It is probably unlawful. Or if you want to rankle small aircraft owners, just tell them they should do something they are convinced is absolutely unnecessary.

        Since both the pilot population and the certificated small aircraft population has been shrinking due to the almost incessant hidden punitive government measures being taken against them over the last 30 or 40 years, it is time to stand back, put yourself in the these small aircraft owners shoes and acknowledge they must decide for themselves what is in their best interest from any outside interference from anyone or any group anywhere.

        It seem like a no brainer to me that small aircraft owners should rule because they are the overwhelming majority, their numbers are shrinking, and the vast majority of them are outside large international airport airspace.

        So when you talk of ADS-B or any future additions to the complexity of flying, the near automatic assumption should be to not include small aircraft airspace. Or exclude all airspace under 18000 ft msl outside of international airports, or 99% plus of all low altitude airspace.

  3. Charles Lloyd says

    Terry as someone who installed a GPS unit 13 years ago and now has two WAAS units in a single engine GA aircraft. I disagree.

    My only complaint is that I live in Kansas and there is no mention in the article of when Kansas will be covered with ADS-B.

    Bring it on.

    • Terry D Welander says

      Could be my english, but I read it again and it still makes sense to me. So you have misinterpreted what I have printed here. Trying again: Two WAAS units sometime in the very distant future may, I emphasize may provide adequate safety in instrument conditions.

      Nothing else currently does except an ILs or localizer approach because the ILS or localizer signals source to aircraft are so close, a few miles at most. GPS signals are subject to interruption with any electrical storm and because most other storms have electrical storms embedded. Our deactivated Loran system, with the wavelength being over a meter, it is nearly impossible to disrupt a Loran signal electrically, ie lightning, even lots of it.

      Mr. Lloyd, you mentioned you had Loran signal challenges in the clouds. No rational person flies a single engine aircraft hard IFR; except maybe, I emphasize maybe a Cirrus SR-22 with its sophisticated deicing/anti icing equipment. I have spoken with several Cirrus pilots. All say they never launch into known icing conditions. But are more than happy to use their anti icing equipment if needed.

      I mention this factual distraction because it discredits your story on Loran in the cloud deficiencies based on the facts I know. Or there are no in the cloud Loran deficiencies.
      You are story telling which is highly offensive.

      Also based on the Loran signal characteristics previously supplied. Based on the info I have, no other country has deactivated their Loran System. If this does not tell you the U.S. Loran system deactivation was political without any reality; worse because Loran has superior reliability to GPS and is or was more economical and simpler to fly; three reasons why Loran is and will always be better than GPS. Help get Loran back. The politics and Loran lies need to stop.

      Those companies that had 10% to 20% of the GPS market with hybrid Loran GPS units
      when the Loran was deactivated and lost their markets due to the Loran deactivation should be recognized for the unlawful Loran system shutdown and the economic losses they suffered. Though it is the flying public, not having the reliability and simplicity of use of the Loran system available that need to be made whole by reactivating the Loran system.

      Being from Kansas, I can only assume Mr. Lloyd works for Garmin or one of the airlines.
      No other General Aviation pilots I know have a use for ADS-B or NextGen as presented.
      I doubt it is the airlines. Even they do not like wasting money.

      • Charles Lloyd says


        I use my Skylane to go from Point A to Point B. These trips range from the central US to all four corners of the US. I do file IFR and fly in the clouds. No I do not go when there is icing or thunderstorm that can not be circumnavigated. Richard Collins used to fly all over the US in a singe engine airplane before he retired. Yes, it can be done with proper risk assessment. I have never lost the GPS signal in flying 1,500 hours over a 13 years with a Garmin 430 and 530.

        You are almost correct on the airspace where ADS-B will not be required. In Class E Airspace below 10,000 feet and no higher than 2,500 AGL at altitudes above 10,000 feet, or in Class G Airspace. I can live with installing ADS-B equipment in my Skylane for my type flying.

        I learned to fly in an Aeronca Champ with no electrical system. It was all finger on the map pilotage and DR navigation, and no I do not want to go back to those “Good Old Days.”

        As to LORAN usage. I flew in LORAN equipped Citations on demonstration flights all over the US. When you entered clouds or precipitation the signal went away. LORAN is not the end all be all.

        I flew seven years for a fractional aircraft operator in Citations with one Flight Management System whose primary sensor was a GPS receiver. Only twice during that time did the single FMS installation fail. We had VOR backups. Dual GPS receivers would be nice.

        No I have never been a Garmin or scheduled airline employee. How did you come to the conclusion that I was spouting a employer’s line.

        Terry, good luck to you and enjoy your flying adventures. I am out of here.

        Fly Safe,

  4. Terry D Welander says

    I apologize for using the word stupid. Your fuzzy, feel good article on Nextgen which is just not real brings out the realist and competitor in me. Keep it real and I will never have a reason to respond. Please, save me the effort of having to provide what I know to be the real situation in the future.

  5. Terry D Welander says

    Not talking about the Nextgen shortcomings will get you not only nothing, but scorn from the informed. Specifically, relying on GPS in bad weather is just plain stupid, or what is going on with all single GPS units aboard aircraft, the overwhelming majority. Also relying on an algorithm to get you safely on the ground is also very stupid. Though, two algorithms may be safe. But it will likely be a generation or at least a long time before a two algorithm or two GPS system will be affordable in most aircraft. Keeping it real will help avoid inevitable mishaps by avoiding these highly dangerous shortcomings up front and insuring truly safe solutions are in place; not yet, not for a long, long time based on my readings.

    • Paul M. Schaaf says

      As a professional helicopter pilot and part time GA fixed wing pilot, I have been the beneficiary of NextGen technology in the DC Area for a little over 7 years now, specifically ADS-B “in and out”. In our helicopters, we have use ADS-B for our primary means of electronic collision avoidance (augmenting a good visual scan). It is the most reliable and consistent collision avoidance system available and is spot-on accurate aircraft to aircraft, and ground to aircraft is even less complicated and useful. We have never once, in 16 years of GPS use, had a failure or any detectable system degradation. As for the comment about a “long time before a two GPS system will be affordable” – not true. Garmin’s latest entry into the NextGen equipment rack is the GDL88 which includes a built-in WAAS GPS as a sub $1,000 option. Nearly all of the CFIT and mid-air collisions I have read about over the past 30 years could have been avoided with NextGen technology and associated training. WAAS GPS is now affordable and highly reliable and it’s integration as a component of ADS-B is a future we can believe in and trust. It will save lives, save fuel and save money. PRESS ON, NextGen!

      • Terry D Welander says

        Nice try. GPS signals are weak, subject to interruption in any bad weather. Meaning you are putting your life on the line in any bad weather relying on GPS. GPS is not and will never be reliable in bad weather due to the weak strength of signal. Sounds like you have been really lucky so far. I would not press your luck.

        You have quoted Garmins unit prices. Panels in most instances need to be modified
        to take the new unit. So multiply all of your numbers by 3 to 5 to get an installed unit. And then there are the antenna additions, power, and control interface wiring. It is pretty obvious you never actually been involved in replacing, updating, or adding a new unit, or units.

        So only the last choice is the real possibility. Two separate units relying on an algorithm. Still a long, long, long, long way off for anyone who takes safety both
        seriously and cost effectively.

        Here is the big, big reality for you from a sector of the short sighted near your geographical location. It cost the U.S. Coast Guard around $37 million per year to maintain the nearly bullet proof in nearly every possible way dozen or
        so LORAN stations in the U.S.. As you know, they shut the LORAN system down;
        when it costs $billions per year to maintain GPS. The little bit more accuracy of GPS VS LORAN has been nearly a total waste having lost the incredible reliability in even the most severe electrical storms of LORAN; to say nothing of the simplicity, ruggedness, reliability and cost effectiveness of a LORAN unit.

        If you do anything, help get the LORAN system back up and running. If the justice department dug into this one, they could probably come up with some serious fraud from shutting down the LORAN system. Several manufacturers were building hybrid GPS LORAN units. So the LORAN system shut down probably removed at least 10% of the competition, maybe as much as 20%. Talk about the blind leading the blind right by racketeering. Most people do not want to talk about the
        racketeering that went on getting rid of LORAN. Just help get LORAN back. That $37 million dollar per year LORAN maintenance price tag is not even a pimple in the federal budget.

        When the GPS satellite failure rate becomes even too outrageous for the DOD,
        everyone flying will thank you and everyone involved for returning this nearly indestructible and highly reliable in the worst possible weather LORAN system back to service.

        • Charles Lloyd says


          Once again I am amazed at some of your comments.

          In my GPS installation I did it one bite at a time over a seven year period. Yes I rearranged my 1966 Skylane panel. It was about time.

          I flew Citation Ultras and XLs from 2001 to 2008 in all types of weather with GPS receivers, some of this weather was rather heavy. In addition I fly my Skylane IMC and have never had a GPS reception problem. This is actual in the cockpit experience. Where do you get your data on lack of GPS reliability.

          In the 90s my experience with Loran was stay out of clouds because you would loose Loran reception. I do not see Loran as the be all end all.

          • Terry D Welander says

            Thanks. Having studied signalling, and having flown, sounds like about as much as you have, I stand by what I have stated. GPS signals, which are weak by any measure, at most a few watts, usually less, are very easy to disrupt, especially in any electrical storm. LORAN signals, with length in meters, it is nearly impossible to disrupt it electrically, the worst case for most signaling. Your perspective does not match the facts I know. And I have given you the basics here that too my knowledge are irrefutable. If you have some actual facts instead of anecdotal personal reference, I would appreciate hearing these facts.

          • Terry D Welander says

            I put about 500 hours on a Cessna 172 during the first half of the 1990s flying long distance exclusively with Loran. The only time I ever lost a signal was when I forgot to wipe the oil off the antenna cover on the belly. As you likely know, Loran towers are over a thousand miles apart generally. The signal curves with the atmosphere due to the long wavelength. Most of my flying was in the southwest where at 5000 feet above the surface you can see, what would you say, 100, up to 300 miles on a good day.

            Meaning any and all atmospheric disturbances up to maybe 300 miles away are visible when flying in the southwest. So during that 500 hours, I saw hundreds of weather related events including thunderstorms in the distance. Not once was my Loran signal interrupted due to those hundreds of weather events I saw.

            More importantly, being trained in these things, I took the time to physically reference the general directions of the Loran towers compared to my direction of flight as an approximate measure of whether I was getting Loran signal through weather. I was getting a good and highly reliable Loran signal through all that weather based on most of those many in flight observations.

            My current 1990s GPS, it still works, if I were not someone striving for patience and temperance, I would have borrowed one of my friends shot guns and blown that GPS into a million pieces. Trash extraordinaire, disgusting as any malignant feces. It is actually worse. The LCD readout changes shades of gray
            whenever there is any change of lighting in the cockpit, which is nearly continuously. So how stupid is any LCD readout in any light aircraft? Really, really stupid. I bought the aircraft that way thinking it would not matter.
            I was really, really wrong. But am living with it.

            The GPS is the only digital readout device in my legacy C-172. So I can swear at
            the GPS and still feel good about flying.

            I am in fact a gadget lover, if the gadget is strait forward, easy to use and uncomplicated. No such GPS exists that I have seen at the economy end. I have not looked lately; but am done looking I think. I am more interested in just flying. The Loran is follow the needle just like an ILS. There is nothing more simple, more strait forward, and more enjoyable than being able to make small control inputs based on instrument needle changes. No needle equals big mess equals GPS in small aircraft.

            Since you appear to like annecdotal evidence, I supply mine here in addition to the basic facts previously.

            And one last, not only important, but critical reminder. Small aircraft flying is a completely different world than even your skylane. A skylane is a pretty smooth ride compared to anything smaller.

            Reading numbers or digits is last choice for good and reliable flying and control inputs compared to reading a dial or following a needle. Why? Because it is at least 10 times harder to focus on and interpret a digit or digits as it is to read a dial or a needle in a vibrating or bouncing environment or both; all small aircraft, smaller than your skylane.

            That means a digital readout GPS in any aircraft smaller than your skylane is trash, or not useable with the vibration, bouncing around or combination. Digital readouts in any aircraft that vibrates and/or bounces around (everything smaller than your skylane) is really very foolish and an invitation to trouble and pilot error.

            Appears non pilots have been designing economy GPSs. Without needles or dials in small aircraft, like all the other instruments in a small older aircraft, flying is made highly unnecessarily difficult. No wonder new pilot starts are down. Try reading digits in a small aircraft. Worse than just really ugly. It takes the joy out of the flying making tedium and focus a constant battle, when it does not need to be and never should be.

            Or light aircraft will never be able to have an instrument panel like a multi engine, fast, high altitude aircraft where smooth normally rules. No smooth
            exists in small aircraft and likely never will; which means needles and dials only to keep the joy in the flying small aircraft. Or they had it right the first time or first go around and have made a mess of light aircraft instrument panels in the last 10 to 20 years based on ease of functional use.

  6. says

    As a recent retired air traffic controller I always enjoy updates on NextGen. While working at Los Angeles Center in 2006 we were introduced to NextGen and told that it would change the way we do business. It intrigued me to the point, after much research, I wrote a novel “Human Interference” about it. I did spend two winters working traffic in the Gulf of Mexico at Miami center where ADS-B will be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks for the update

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