‘Significant progress’ made on NextGen in last year

WASHINGTON, D.C. — It has been one year since FAA Deputy Administrator Mike Whitaker took over as Chief NextGen Officer. In his first report to Congress early in June, he noted that “significant progress” has been made.

That optimism is not totally shared by others, however, most of whom have questions about equipment requirements and costs; potential effects on traffic in congested airspace; equipment and possible regulations in non-congested airspace; and other secondary effects of a new system.

“We have strengthened our partnerships with key stakeholders, coming to an agreement on a set of near-term capabilities that both the FAA and industry will concentrate on over the next three years,” Whitaker said.

He added the FAA has “concrete evidence” that NextGen works for aviation and the nation as a whole. This is through shorter flights, better on-time performance for airlines, and considerable savings in fuel, he said.

General aviation pilots, he added, “are enjoying greater access to airports across the country, especially in bad weather.”

Several key programs that underpin the Next Generation Air Transportation System are near completion.

This past March the FAA completed installation of the ground infrastructure for ADS-B —Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast. This system uses GPS signals to determine an aircraft’s location. Aircraft equipped for ADS-B are already using this system, where available. With it, traffic and weather is sent directly to the cockpit, increasing situational awareness for pilots.

By the middle of next year, Whitaker said all 20 en route centers will be operating with En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM), which will replace the computer system the FAA has been using to control traffic in high altitude airspace since 1970.

NextGen programs are expected to improve how traffic flies into, through, and out of 13 areas called metroplexes by the FAA. These are areas with several airports and high amounts of traffic.

The agency has been working for many years with the industry to develop ways to employ performance based navigation (PBN) in these areas.

After a three-year development period, the first became operational at Denver with nine airports.

The Denver metroplex introduced a network of 51 satellite-based procedures designed to provide more direct routes. The project introduced 16 departure procedures and two GPS approaches. Twelve additional sophisticated approach procedures, known as Required Navigation Performance Authorization Required (RNP AR), began operation in mid-2013. FAA officials say there has been an approximately 35% decrease in go-arounds caused by aircraft coming in too high or too fast.

Another part of NextGen is System Wide Information Management (SWIM). This is NextGen’s digital data delivery. It will give airlines access to a single data feed that contains management initiatives, airport runway configurations, and which airports are in deicing. Several new SWIM programs are scheduled to open next year, Whitaker said. This will include Flow Information Publication, which gives access to traffic information.

Next year will be a pivotal one for NextGen. FAA will need money for investing in a series of future programs. Decisions on what to do with the next stages of NextGen will depend, to a large extent, on decisions made by Congress about funding.

Comments

  1. Bill Repucci says

    So, you have a guy with a C150 valued at $15,000 who will be required to put another $5,000 in it to be ADS-B compliant. How is that giving him access to more airports or making him safer?

    Not only does that $5,000 represent a significant portion of his yearly flying budget (hangar/tie-down, fuel, annual, etc.), he is probably a good weather flier who only takes local trips and doesn’t need ADS-B.

    This seems like another way for the FAA to obstruct GA.

  2. says

    Seen through a tinted lens (not a bad idea, when reading about FAA?), this appears to be just one more in a string of PR efforts by FAA to sell NextGen and try to look productive.

    The paragraph about Denver is a perfect example. The numbers look impressive, until you take a closer look. Denver metroplex: nine airports, 51 satellite based procedures, 16 departure procedures and 2 GPS approaches. Really? Objectively, how substantially do these improve on the set of procedures that was introduced in the mid-1990’s, two full decades ago, when KDEN was opened to great fanfare? This massive airport, at 33,500+ acres, with four north-south parallels and two other runways to boot, still operates way below capacity. It was the grand-daddy and prototype of dream airports ‘if money and space had no limit’ when it was built, and all the arrival and departure procedures were designed to be extremely efficient … two decades ago, long before NextGen.

    The last note about the Denver Metroplex says there was a 35% decline in “go-arounds coming in too high or too fast.” At a casual glance, this must represent an enormous fuel savings, right, maybe one gazillion or two gazillion gallons? Nah, that’s just the implied rosy picture of a casual glance, intended by the PR spin-artists. Note that this does NOT include go-arounds due to aircraft B being ‘too close’ to aircraft A. What is the timeframe for this alleged improvement? Does it coincide with the dramatic drop in GA flying these past two decades, which alone would likely produce at least a 35% decline in any metric? [NOTE: at KDEN, GA ops dropped from 29,500 in 1994 to 3,900 in 2012; the two other key DEN Metroplex airports are KAPA, 2012 ops down 36% since peak year 1998, and KBJC, ops down 37% since peak year 2002] So, among these three key airports, how many ‘too-high or too-fast’ go-arounds happened to these two airports, in say 2008? All of these ‘goofs’ were being worked by ATC, right? If ATC was doing a lousy job that year (highly likely, as they were demoralized two years into the imposed workrules with split payscale and dress code), might their own sloppy work and indifference trigger more of these go-arounds? If there were 200 total that year, and by 2013 it dropped back to 130, that’s a 35% decline to brag about, but with no real or meaningful true change. Thus, the benefits and improvements implied by the PR spin-artists are just an intentional illusion.

  3. Douglas Manuel says

    I am not too sure. I was told that an FAA official stated during my friend’s license suspension (he violated a TFR that was not displayed on his Next-Gen display) investigation, that all Next-Gen data is advisory only. That gives me great concern. Next, no matter what glorious promises they make about it expediting flight, here in the Washington D.C. area, you are going to get the GA shuffle with extensive vectoring to keep you away from ‘potential’ traffic that does not exist.
    Does anyone really believe airplanes are going to be allowed to file direct to destinations and actually do so? Sure if your flight never gets near any Class B airspace, at any phase if flight.

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