Opinion: Setting Priorities For NextGen

By Bill Ayer
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology
September 30, 2013
Credit: Alaska Air Group

Significant budget cuts are the latest threat to the FAA's vision for a 21st century air traffic system that already faces formidable challenges. The Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) needs to integrate a complex web of air traffic management capabilities to serve growing needs in the world's busiest airspace, while enhancing safety, saving fuel and reducing environmental impacts. NextGen is more than technology. It includes policies and procedures, and requires a return on investment.

That's a mammoth mission. And slow progress has raised the question of whether the FAA will deliver on its commitments and, in turn, how much funding will be forthcoming. NextGen is at a tipping point.

While automatic U.S. budget cuts, known as “sequestration,” are a tough reality, the FAA's situation is not unique. All organizations face resource constraints, requiring choices among projects and initiatives. Much work lies ahead, but consensus within the RTCA NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC) is helping the FAA with its planning, and work is proceeding in the field. These developments are giving NextGen a needed boost.

New Performance Based Navigation (PBN) arrival routes at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, for example, became operational last March. Alaska Airlines worked with the FAA and Sea-Tac to develop these routes. For Alaska, it was a logical next step after early adoption of satellite-based navigation to improve operational reliability in its namesake state, where weather and terrain pose major challenges. “Greener Skies Over Seattle” proves what NextGen can deliver and is a model for the collaboration needed among all stakeholders. Similar work on PBN arrival and departure routes is underway in Atlanta, Washington, Denver and other locations. Documenting and sharing the lessons learned from these efforts will expedite implementation at future sites.

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