WASHINGTON, D.C. — Business as usual in air traffic management won’t work, which is why the FAA Administrator is calling on the aviation industry to help in adapting and assuring the financing of new approaches. That was the message FAA Administrator Michael Huerta brought in a recent speech to the Aero Club of Washington.
The sabotage and resulting fire at the Chicago en route center can be described by one word: Devastating, he said.
Keeping the system operating and bringing it back to full capacity was marked by what he called “profound teamwork.” When he visited the Chicago center to see the progress, he said he couldn’t see who was a manager, who was a controller and who was a technician. Nor could he tell who was from industry and who was from government.
“This goes to show what can happen when industry and the government work together,” he said.
Chicago controllers traveled to facilities in other states to help keep traffic moving. They know the Chicago airspace and shared this knowledge with controllers in other areas who suddenly had to take over operations for that area.
It’s this kind of cooperation and joint effort that Huerta wants to see for developing the Next Generation Air Transportation System, known as NextGen.
The FAA is facing massive challenges in both maintaining the air traffic control system — 50,000 operations per day — while at the same time modernizing the system. More than 10,000 miles of cable to 835 distinct circuits had to be replaced, he reported.
With NextGen, unexpected outages like those suffered in the Chicago area can be recovered more quickly because it is a more flexible system, he said.
The FAA is focusing on near-term priorities for NextGen. A report recently given to Congress lists the four areas that the industry and government have agreed on: More satellite-based navigation procedures; better use of runways; better situational awareness of airports; and more streamlined departure clearances through DataComm.
Seattle and Denver were cited as two cities where satellite-based navigation is showing results by fast-tracking more direct flights in the airspace above these and other metropolitan areas. Houston is another example of fuel savings and lower carbon emissions. In the Houston area along, Huerta said, airlines have saved 3 million gallons of fuel annually.
Better use of runways has resulted in improved wake turbulence separation. Nine airports in five cities will have reduced separation standards put into effect over the next year.
Long-term benefits will come through NextGen when point-to-point communication is replaced by a network of communications. Under the current system, each air traffic facility can see and talk to only aircraft within its prescribed area. NextGen will enable controllers to transfer duties from one facility to another.
ADS-B — Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast — is one of the foundational elements of NextGen. The deadline for equipping aircraft that fly in certain classes of airspace with ADS-B is Jan. 1, 2020, little more than five years away.
The administrator said he wants everyone to be equipped by that date “because it is not going to change.”
He warned that there seems to be a pervasive complacency, which must be corrected by a concrete plan developed collectively between the aviation industry and government. He called on the two to work together not only equipping for NextGen, but to also achieve a stable budget for the FAA to allow work to progress.
In his talk, Huerta focused mainly on benefits to commercial airlines. Business aviation was also cited. Another part of the diverse aviation industry he named was “recreational flyers.”