Quantum Leap: NextGen and the GA pilot

For all the talk about NextGen — the Next Generation Air Transportation System — there are many pilots who still think it’s somewhere far off in the future. Think again.

“People are starting to see that we’re way beyond the drawing board or the science experiment stage,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “Many components of NextGen are in place, and NextGen is showing results today.”

During a sit-down interview at last summer’s AirVenture in Oshkosh, Huerta noted that the FAA made a commitment to the aviation industry that the NextGen ground infrastructure would be in place by 2013 “and that’s essentially completed,” with full capability expected by 2015.

huerta copyThere are pilots already realizing the benefits of NextGen — and not just airline pilots. While airlines were among the first to equip their aircraft to take advantage of the switch from ground-based radar navigation to satellite-based navigation, the general aviation industry has shown quite an enthusiasm for the new technologies, according to Huerta.

“We have a lot of early adopters in the general aviation community,” he said, noting the FAA is learning a lot from the general aviation community in regards to NextGen. “There is a willingness to experiment and try different things,” he noted. “That’s one of the things that is important for us to harness.”

That’s because NextGen involves the complete transformation of the air traffic control system. FAA officials, realizing that the current system couldn’t accommodate the level of growth expected in aviation, began the search for new capabilities and technologies designed to not only keep the skies safe, but running efficiently. For example, the cornerstone of NextGen — Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) — improves situational awareness for both pilots and air traffic controllers, which allows more airplanes to be in the sky at the same time.

Airplanes with ADS-B equipment send signals to ATC and other equipped airplanes, which makes everyone safer, FAA officials note. That’s why the agency is requiring all aircraft that fly in the nation’s busiest airspace to have ADS-B Out equipment by 2020.

While many GA pilots wince at the expected costs of equipping their airplanes, Huerta said it’s “very important” that they do.

“For starters, it’s good for them,” he said. “NextGen is a quantum leap from the standpoint of situational awareness. It gives you a much clearer view of everything that’s happening in the National Airspace System. It also gives you the equivalent of perfect weather conditions.”

According to Huerta, an FAA analysis found that aircraft equipped with ADS-B were involved in 47% fewer accidents,

“That’s huge,” he said.

Airplanes equipped for both ADS-B Out and ADS-B In will be able to receive continually updated traffic, as well as weather, all without paying a subscription. Many in GA point out that is one of the enticements the FAA is offering to get GA pilots to reach into their wallets. In a recent speech, Huerta noted: “It may not take long for the cost of new equipment to pay for itself in savings from monthly or quarterly subscriptions.”

“One of the things we go back to is when everyone was wondering if they wanted to invest in an HD TV,” Huerta said at Oshkosh. “Once they did, they said ‘wow, this is such a great thing.’”

He believes GA pilots will say the same thing about NextGen.

“There are so many important safety benefits for pilots,” he said. “If you are flying in controlled airspace, you will get a much better picture of what’s happening around you.”

Huerta noted that the FAA has been doing “an awful lot” to accelerate the benefits associated with NextGen. (See Capital Comments on Page 9 for a recap of recent developments). Besides building up the infrastructure, the FAA is giving top priority to approving products that support NextGen — and there are more and more of these seemingly every day.

When talking to pilots, Huerta works to dispel concerns about the new technologies. Speaking at last year’s SUN ’n FUN, he said: “Raise your hand if you have ever flown a WAAS-enabled RNAV GPS approach, such as an LPV approach. If you raised your hand, then you’re already benefiting from the satellite-based navigation elements of NextGen. And I bet you’d agree that the investment you made to equip your aircraft paid off the first time it got you into the airport where you wanted to land.”

He continued: “Another reason to put ADS-B on your upgrade list: A lot of the efficiencies we expect depend on a system where most aircraft are using them. The best equipped aircraft will be best placed to benefit.”

Best Equipped/Best Served is a fundamental shift in how air traffic controllers will handle traffic. Currently, it’s on a first come/first served basis. One of the enticements to get airplane owners and airlines to equip for NextGen is Best Equipped/Best Served, which would give priority to NextGen-equipped aircraft.

Nav Canada is already giving priority to ADS-B equipped aircraft, while the FAA is still in the “modeling” stages of the new policy.

At a public hearing on the policy last April, officials with the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) argued that “as designed, the proposals would adversely penalize a very large percentage of business aircraft operating in the U.S. by establishing exclusionary technological requirements.”

Another piece of the NextGen puzzle is the redesign of airspace around major metropolitan areas, dubbed Metroplexes.

The Metroplex initiative, formally called “The Optimization of Procedures in the Metroplex,” is designed to create more direct, fuel-efficient routes and improve how we use congested airspace. For this initiative, the FAA is focusing locally, bringing together pilots, airline officials, air traffic controllers and others in the aviation industry to redesign the airspace in 21 Metroplex areas.

This is beneficial, according to Huerta, because everyone is in the same room as the work is being done. “If an airline wants a particular approach, a controller can point out that it goes over a GA airport, and it can be easily moved,” he said.

To help the public keep track of all the changes associated with NextGen, the FAA has added NextGen Performance Snapshots to its website. According to FAA officials, the performance snapshots provide a “rear-view mirror” look at performance where NextGen capabilities have been implemented. It also provides descriptions of some “major operational successes.”

“The performance snapshots will help both government and industry assess the effects of NextGen implementation as we perform our individual, yet collective, roles,” Huerta said in a speech to the NextGen Advisory Council.

The entire aviation community — including general aviation — needs to look at NextGen “not as a challenge — and it is a challenge — but as a wonderful opportunity,” Huerta said.

“The decisions we make in aviation now set the stage for what aviation will be like for the next 25 years,” he concluded. “That makes it a very exciting time to be in aviation.”

For more information: FAA.gov/NextGen


  1. Dave says

    Seems to be a lot of misinformed pricing out there. GDL-88 gets you both ‘out’ and ‘in’ for $4k, perhaps $5k-$6k installed – assuming you already have an adequate GPS source. If not, add the GPS option for $500 and you are done for <$6k total (although you won't be able to display 'in' data without a display – 430 or better will work). Lower cost options will be out there for simply upgrading existing transponders – Garmin already upgrading GTX-330 to 'out' compliance (ES) for $1200. I'd expect others to follow with similar options. Full GTX-330 ES ('out' compliance only) going for $4.5k, probably <$5k installed (assuming you already have a transponder and nothing fancy to interface it with). There should be plenty of ~$2k options out there for minimal compliance soon. But for another $4k, why not get traffic and weather – stuff that has been out of reach for most GA forever? I'd also expect insurance companies to start charging based on installed 'safety equipment' like auto insurance does, so investment might pay for itself in a few years. The sky is not falling.

  2. Dale Rust says

    I recently attended a P.P. display and discussion on just where (plan view and altitude limits) aircraft will be allowed to fly WITHOUT the ADS-B out equipment. I would like to see that again, showing what airports (and the altitude limits) would be exempt. I see this as the only salvation for the Sport and Recreational flyer. I realize transponders (even Mode C) have come down considerably in cost since they were first introduced, but this new technology appears be forever out of reach/justification for the $20 – $30 M aircraft owners. For the sake of the lower end of GA’s future, I hope I am wrong.

  3. says

    Flying general aviation aircraft has become a rich man’s sport . Next Gen is eliminating VOR’s all over the country and plans to eliminate 1/2 of existing VOR’s. THE COST of a GPS panel on traditionally equiped ILS planes runs into $ 25.000 to 30.000 or more . So if you cant afford a new GPS panel you will not be able to fly to or use the Vor Approach you need to get to where you are flying to. The FAA administrators attitude is shocking and insensitive to the those who can not afford a glass panel . The let them eat cake attitude punishes middle class pilots . And shame on the two largest pilots organization for leaving many pilots on the beach .

  4. says

    As long as fuel costs $6/gal, we are never going to see the “anticipated growth” in General Aviation that the FAA has predicted.
    This reminds me of the $150,000 + RVSM conversions mandated by the FAA for jets to fly above 29,000′ when every GPS made can give altitude accurate to 20′ or less.
    At some point the bureaucrats need to realize that the world has changed since all these grand plans were made.

    And, no one bought HD TV’s until the price came way down!

    L. Galizi

  5. Barry Genaske says

    Equiping my $35,000 plane with an additional $25,000 worth of avionics just to track traffic is a no starter. This may be fine for the airliner crowd with 2 pilots … one to fly the plane and one to have his head down in the cockpit watching the ADS-B pictures on his glass panel. But for single-pilot aircraft, flying in Class B airspace, the controllers should be looking after traffic separation, calling traffic to the small planes and the pilots of those small planes should have their heads up and their eyes outside confirming the traffic being called to them … not head down looking at a $25,000 panel display.
    And, by the way, what is this nonsence that Mr. Huerta is spouting about ADS-B “also gives you the equivalent of perfect weather conditions”. Onboard receivers such as Foreflght/Stratus allow you to get weather updates along your flight path but that’s all.
    What am I missing here???

    • Terry D Welander says

      Thanks. So I did not have to say it. Have you decided which museum to leave your aircraft to or will you just have it junked out? All they know in DC is foolishness.
      But, with any luck, what goes around comes around. Flying is already 3 to 10 times safer than driving, depending on whose numbers you use. Or flying is already plenty safe.

      Only cost effective improvements are practical which no one in DC yet has a clue; or the real truth, they do not care. Which group of Senators and Congressmen will keep figuratively hammering the FAA and the DOT until they start not only paying attention to the relevant facts, but making sure these relevant facts are the center of policy? Or will the general aviation fleet just keep declining from all the foolishness? No bets here.

  6. John Roske says

    I’m all for making flying safer for all of us. The problem is that I fly an airplane that costs about all I can afford to keep in safe flying shape. Adding a system that costs more than my airplane is worth doesn’t make sense. There are a lot of us non millionaire pilots out here, should we just quit flying and take up golf?.

  7. Michael Blasdel says

    NextGen is an exciting development of new technologies. When reading about the NextGen capabilities, it’s almost like reading science fiction. However, there is a hidden consequence to this new frontier that will change the face of aviation forever (good and bad). The question is how we bear the cost of this new technology. On the flying communities, the cost is obvious; we need to equip our planes with high cost avionics. Will this put flying out of reach of the middle class? Although economy of scale will help bring the costs down some, it will never approach economy of HD televisions, where approximately 34 million units (www.statista.com) sold in the US in 2012. There are only 224,475 active aircraft in the US (2011- (aopa.org). Secondly, there is the question of how the infrastructure costs will be borne. As development costs go up for further NextGen improvements, who picks up the tab? Already the subject of user fees is a hot topic in Washington, and with high expense of this infrastructure, this topic will just become hotter. Especially in these austere times. EAA/AOPA have done a terrific job lobbying for the continued elimination of user fees, but can they keep this up? Also, it will be a long time before we can discard the existing avionics infrastructure, due to the reliability questions of GPS satellite based navigation. So we will have to fully support two systems. This new development is fascinating and futuristic (to say nothing about safety), but it comes at a cost.

  8. Don Streeter says

    The buildndg blocks of NEXGEN were done when we implemented Controller Pilot Data Link Operations in the Pacific back in the 80’s, in the 90’s and during the FAA Alaska Capstone Project in Alaska where we equipped over 300 aircraft, implemented and approved Terrain Avoidance Warning Systems, GPS certified under TSO C-129 for enroute VFR and IFR RNav and non-precision approaches, and ADS-B that was used for collision avoidance, and air traffic control in Alaska. We then developed the FAA regulatory guidance for implementation and operational approved of certified GPS WAAS systems and developed a usable IFR infrastructure in Alaska for use of GPS-WAAS for IFR RNAV operations and approving GPS-WAAS systems for use as the “only means of navigation” on March 31, 2003. I am a retired FAA Ops inspector (June 2007) and happened to be part of the FAA team that implemented this technology. It is good stuff and will provide tremendous safety benefits as it is implemented. We reduced the accident rate by 41% in Alaska as a result of this technology. Hopefully we can keep the politics and other detractors from delaying the implemetation of NEXGEN.

    • ManyDecadeGA says

      Sadly, Don S’s comment widely misses the mark. NextGen is still replete with flawed concepts, and waste, and will not come close to solving GA’s needs at reasonable cost. It doesn’t come close to solving air transport or military and other airspace users needs either. For example, ADS-B is simply a gold plated radar replacement for FAA. It is far too expensive, and still doesn’t do what it needs to do. It willl never be implemented for tens of thousands of aircraft ranging from antiques to brand new jet transports, regardless of the present ill-advised rule, due to factors like its unnecessary and obsolete WAAS or equivalent required ties. Canada and Australia both rightfully DUMPED any need for such accuracy or integrity (via SBAS) as simply gold plating, long ago, and as completely unnecessary. In NAV, the broadly touted “LPV” is still “straight-in” and still uses woefully obsolete “angular” criteria. Hence it is a pending disaster for wasting airspace for adjaent airports in busy metro areas, and it is simply checkmated in areas of complex terrain. It alone will destroy the effective utilization of airspace for nearby airport interactions, for all classes of users. WAAS (SBAS) is now a totally obsolete $4B waste of our fuel tax money, in an era where we already have all the accuracy, integrity, and availability needed, via “GPS with SA off”, 30+ GPSs, GPS III on the way, widespread use of FMS, RNP (the method of the future globally), and expanding low cost inertial, and now with Europe’s Galileo on the way. Further we’ll soon be relying on the vastly superior and lower cost GBAS/GLS which along with RNP will inevitably replace ILS (but NextGen hasn’t even figured this out yet). So don’t be so sure that the present NextGen plan will do anything but cost GA pilots unnecessary avionics pain, for little or no gain, over the next decade. The airlines have already pretty much figured that out. Hence, it is past time for GA to wake up, and start abandoning the GA lobby groups who fail to start more aggressively pushing back against these flawed aspects of ill-advised and non-constructive FAA NextGen plans.

  9. Barry says

    This will cost me a minimun of about $6k without any benefit to me. To get the touted benefits, and to be able to fly out of the country, the costs jump to probably $15k. I fail to see the cost benefit for a plane worth $30K.

  10. Jim Zock says

    I have upgraded my 310 with GPS, WAAS, Transponder, TIS and Aspen Pro, iPad Foreflight etc. I welcome the move to ADS-B and am willing to pay for the advanced technology. My hesitation to making this investment is the threat that I may someday have to pay a user fee for every time I use it or worse yet every time I fly. Once the government makes the promise that user fees will never be brought back into the discussion then the NextGen will have a better chance to be installed on GA aircraft.

    • ManyDecadeGA says

      FAA mistakes, like continuing obsolete WAAS, and pushing airspace wasting LPV, that the airlines and military and other airspace users don’t need and are never going to use (versus GA going straight to the vastly superior RNP, with Baro VNAV, and GBAS/GLS, and FANS or VDL M2 data links) is the very reason GA user fees will likely someday be assessed. The current ATC system, even with ERAM, and the planned gold plated ADS-B is horrendously outdated and unnecessarily expensive, if not conceptually flawed. Many of these FAA programs while well meaning, are flawed, gold plated, or are being misused (e.g., ADS-B as pseudo radar to maintain obsolete radar vectors), and some are completely unnecessary (specs for NIC, NAC, and NUC for ADS), or are wasteful and obsolete, ….just as low volume towers and redundant FSSs aren’t needed any more. Hence NextGen is well on its way to being a $40+B “train wreck”, and needs major revision, if the cost per unit separation service is to ever get down to the point where GA (and UAVs) can afford it, without a huge government subsidy or crippling user fees. There is no free lunch. The current avionics suites being touted for GA for NextGen (at $20K to $40K or more a pop), from the latest 700 series panel mounts, to the Primus and Epics, have near zero chance of solving either the preservation of airspace access issue, or the cost reduction issue that GA is facing in NextGen. At this point, investment in them for the purposes of preparing for Nextgen is simply one giant waste of money. NextGen need fundamental rethinking, from its very foundation, before one more dime is invested by GA pilots in any avionics that are bought for the purpose of preparing for Nextgen.

  11. Jim Hiatt says

    HD TV? Are you serious? Right now the cost for ADS-B out installed is north of $5000! The cost for an ADS-B in reciever installed in north of $7000! A certified panel mount display to see all the whiz-bang stuff is north of $10,000. Not to forget the GPS navigator that is required for $10,000 – $25,000 installed! I never enven considered an HD TV that cost $32,000 – $45,000. I do not see the value! This is just a wat to move the cost of ATC hardwae from the FAA to the pilots. When there is no personal GA left because of exhorbitant costs what are you all going to do to justify a large ATC organization working relatively few jets?

  12. YZF-R1 says

    I like the HD TV comparison. It fails to point out that it was only widely adopted when the price went down. Economies of scale are not readily available to the aviation community given its size. The cost to manufactures to build and certify equipment must be low in order for the equipment to be affordable.

    Since the savings to operate the new infrastructure are expected to decrease, maybe those savings can be invested to produce low cost equipment that we can all afford. Having a best equipped/best served philosophy may give incentives to support just the opposite for some lobbies.

  13. says

    I am a retired controller from Los Angeles ARTCC and have followed NextGen over the years. I readily back the modernization, retiring as ERAM was coming in. ADS-B and Data link will be revolutionary in the ARTCC environment. Thanks for your update.

    Donald Reavis
    Los Angeles ARTCC (retired)

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