NextGen over budget and behind schedule

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Pilots and aircraft owners at all levels of aviation are reluctant to invest in the necessary new equipment for the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). One reason is that the FAA has not clearly defined what benefits will be achieved and when.

A recent report from Calvin Scovel III, Inspector General of the Department of Transportation, noted that the FAA has made some progress in developing the satellite-based system, but is behind schedule on meeting many deadlines.

As of August 2013, the agency had implemented only 11 of the 24 NextGen provisions identified in Title II of the 2012 Modernization and Reform Act.

The FAA’s problems in moving NextGen as planned stem from program and organizational challenges. Topping the list of problems is the technical complexity of NextGen; coordinating the collaboration required with other government and aviation stakeholders to complete the initiatives; and financial concerns from sequestration and other cost-reducing pressures.

There has been some progress. An FAA deputy administrator was appointed in June 2013 who will serve as the chief NextGen officer. His responsibilities include overseeing FAA’s NextGen budgets and coordinating planning across the agency’s business with partner agencies. Earlier, the FAA had completed a multi-agency integrated work plan that outlines the responsibilities of other agencies, such as Department of Defense and National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The FAA has not implemented other key provisions intended to accelerate NextGen technologies, such as initiating rulemaking activities requiring use of Automated Dependence Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B). The agency also is behind schedule on reports and plans related to determining NextGen progress.

This recent report to Congress from the Inspector General’s office renewed earlier concerns that office had made. A July 2009 report said “organizational barriers and fragmented initiatives hindered FAA’s process for approving new flight procedures.” During a September 2012 hearing, the office reiterated similar concerns regarding the “FAA’s ability to implement NextGen capabilities that could result in delayed benefits.”

Since the inception of NextGen a decade ago, the FAA has not met the expectations of Congress and industry stakeholders, the Inspector General said in his report. He noted that key modernization efforts have seen significant budget increases and schedule delays. On top of all that, the FAA has not developed a process to regularly update the aviation industry, resulting in all levels of aviation being reluctant to invest the money for new equipment to operate in a satellite-based system.

Developing NextGen is a complicated and expensive move. The FAA spends nearly $1 billion annually on NextGen efforts. Transitioning from a ground-based staff-heavy system to a highly automated satellite one has been cited by some as like changing a flat tire on a bus while speeding down the highway.

As a result of these problems and delays, the report continues its previous determination that the FAA will likely not be ready to mandate the use of ADS-B by 2020, as required.

The report concludes: “Unless FAA places greater management attention on its efforts to implement the act’s provisions, it is unlikely that the agency will realize enhanced program oversight and accountability or the benefits of advanced technologies and navigation procedures.”

Comments

  1. PapaMilano says:

    The FAA must… or else? What are the consequences? Well, relinquish the associated funding. They must be good stewards of the taxpayer’s money. Or else!

  2. Jeff Aryan says:

    When is the FAA and Congress going to realize the NextGen system is not going to work. Remember the Micro Wave Landing System (MLS). That didn’t work and how much money was spent on that boondoggle.
    The NextGen is a great idea but it just doesn’t deliver. Stop this bureaucratic garbage and shut it down. Save the money to pay down the debt.

  3. When the iPAD was released (years ago), the tech experts at the FAA announced, “The iPad is a new and revolutionary device for aviation!” They were unaware that Windows Tablets existed for nearly 15 years prior and already had aviation flight planning and moving map software. When the FAA announced NexGen, their web site had the following statement: “This program is being developed directly using taxpayer funding. As a result, all the the circuit designs, software, coding, scehmatics will be FREELY AVILABLE TO INTERETED PARTIES AT NO COST”. That statement was REMOVED from their web site two years later. Thenall the design and specs were transferred to ARINC/RTCA. MITRE will sell you a license for a cheap ADSB design for $10,000. Sure are a lot of “experts” at the FAA.

  4. ManyDecadesGA says:

    Calvin is correct. NextGen is significantly over budget and behind schedule, and few if any operators or pilots are investing, except perhaps with “free government” incentive programs. Yet even worse, even if NextGen was on schedule, it isn’t going to work. It isn’t going to solve either GA’s presently “high fully allocated ATS cost” issue, it isn’t going to solve the UAV’s access issue, it isn’t going to solve the airlines capability and capacity issue (except for teh part that the airlines and OEMs did on their own in the first place, with RNP, GLS, and FANS), and Nextgen isn’t going to solve the military’s need for more flexible airspace access. In short NextGen will be a failure in that it fails to deliver what is promised, and it will be far too expensive for what little benefit it might accrue. A fundamental re-examination is now needed, taken out of the hands of FAA, their main contractors, and their captive consultants.

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