NextGen still facing unresolved issues

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The FAA’s program for the Next Generation Air Traffic Control system (NextGen) has made some progress, but still lacks major planning decisions and actions that can both delay implementation and substantially increase the cost.

At a Congressional hearing Wednesday, July 17, the Inspector General of the Department of Transportation said the FAA has taken important steps to improve NextGen’s management, but has made little progress in shifting from planning to implementation and delivering benefits to airspace users.

Calvin Scovel III said these problems stem from a number of sources. For example, he told the members of the Aviation Subcommittee, the FAA’s initial plans did not address implement costs or how technologies would be developed or integrated.

Also, while there have been new performance-based navigation routes and procedures at key airports in order to maximum near-term benefits and gain user support, FAA’s lengthy procedure development process has delayed implementation of new routes. In his testimony Scovel added that the agency continues to face unresolved obstacles, such as lack of updated controller policies and procedures.

The FAA still has not decided how much responsibility for tracking aircraft will be delegated to pilots versus what duties will remain with controllers and ground stations.

The FAA still does not have an executable NextGen plan. Originally targeted for completion in 2025 at a cost of $40 billion, according to Scovel the project could take as much as 10 years longer and cost considerably more.

The lack of specific plans has made users of the system, who will be expected to equip with costly NextGen avionics, reluctant to make expensive changes.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told committee members NextGen has made some advances but that sequester poses additional threats to development. He said at Atlanta, NextGen navigation allows an increase of eight to 10 aircraft departures per hour. This will save air carriers $20 million this year.

General aviation pilots are seeing benefits, he said, with greater access to more airports, particularly in bad weather.


  1. Kimberly Bush says

    In 2006, in the restaurant of a hotel in BNA, I overheard two salesmen (who were the only other customers in the place) talking about “Well, pilots need to understand that they aren’t really necessary to safe (commercial) flight! There is no reason why the planes can’t be remotely flown from tower to tower.”
    At the time, I merely resisted dumping either a pitcher of ice water or their table in their laps, requested my meal be made ‘to go’ so that I could eat in my room, and left expeditiously. I couldn’t imagine for a moment that commercial air travelers would be comfortable with no one ‘up there’ (in the flight deck).
    Seven short years later, it seems that I was merely being old-fashioned. So, I talked to a local A&P mechanic at the FBO to see if I were being overly-cautious. (Residual from being a mother)
    He reminded me that the technology would be electricity dependent.
    So, let’s envision a new upgrade Captain, who has never flown into ORD (or LAX, or MSY, you pick one), who loses power to his avionics. As a child of the magenta, he is clueless.
    He has complete control of the situation, because he IS the PIC. He could call down to ATC and ask for assistance, but
    OOPS! They aren’t there anymore, either, and his radio is deader than the proverbial doornail.
    Hey, no problem, his company saved $20 million last year, so they have the money to pay all those comp claims because someone broke a nail during belly-landing.
    On the other hand, WOM (word of mouth) is the #1 greatest advertising in the world. Deals have been made for less.
    Let’s start by forcing someone (like US Airways/American) who want to have Congress’ blessing on their merger to use this wonderful new brand of sliced bread.
    Give us a tax credit for playing along, just like for energy efficient windows and new doors.
    Draw a prettier picture.

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