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.