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.”