December 31, 2012
Credit: Credit: ITT
The next year looms as a critical period for the U.S. effort to revamp its air traffic management system. While some of the core programs are on track to achieve major deployment milestones, the FAA will need to show that it has solved policy and technology headaches that could yet stymie progress.
The FAA's NextGen ATM upgrade plan is expected to increase the efficiency and safety of the aviation system as traffic grows. The target date for full implementation is 2025, and two of the crucial foundation systems are scheduled to be largely completed by the end of 2013. Succeeding with these will boost confidence that other NextGen goals can be achieved as planned.
NextGen was launched in 2004, so it is now a relatively mature program. It has gone through a few organizational shakeups, but despite fears to the contrary, the effort has not faded away. While the sequestration debate cast a cloud over all federal funding in the later months of 2012, Congress and successive administrations have so far supported NextGen funding requests.
Securing funding has only been part of the battle—the FAA also has to deliver the technology and procedures that will be required.
There have been both successes and failures for the FAA in this regard. The en-route automation modernization (ERAM) program has suffered multiple delays, and while promising signs have emerged recently, it has threatened to disrupt progress in other areas. Meanwhile, another crucial NextGen foundation—the automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) network—is on time and three-quarters deployed.
ADS-B utilizes GPS-derived positions to give controllers and pilots improved surveillance information.
For the FAA, it will initially be used to complement radar coverage in domestic airspace, as well as providing coverage over new areas such as the Gulf of Mexico and large parts of Alaska. The agency has contracted ITT Exelis to deploy and operate the network of ground stations required for nationwide coverage. This will allow ADS-B “Out” service, providing position data for use in air traffic control. The FAA says the improved “accuracy, integrity and reliability” of ADS-B over radar will allow it to reduce separation standards.