FAA NextGen: Momentous 4 Short Term Goals and MITRE’s Assessment/Recommendations

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Amidst some debate about the progress of NextGen’s ADS-B, the Deputy Administrator and Chief NextGen Officer, Michael Whitaker, announced an agreement with industry on a “plan that accelerates the delivery of key NextGen initiatives to the flying public to over the next three years. That’s a momentous commitment by the FAA and the users. Below is a more detailed review of what is in this package. In the same announcement, Mr. Whitaker also released an extensive report by MITRE which finds substantial progress and points to areas needing focus.

First, with whom did the FAA agree? The users as represented by the RTCA’s NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC). Who exactly is the NAC? It is a federally charted committee composed of 28 individuals (6 FAA executives, 1 DoD representative, 1 consultant to the FAA, 2 European regulators, 6 representatives of users, 2 airport representatives, 3 labor union leaders, 2 aircraft manufacturer executives, 2 executives from corporations which design/build the ATC equipment, 1 expert on avionics, 1 noise leader and the president of RTCA).

They have been working since 2010 to provide input to the FAA on the implementation of NextGen. In July 2013, the FAA asked NAC to establish priorities as to what would benefit the users as short actions. It announced, pursuant to its transparency commitment, a meeting scheduled for October 8th at which it would discuss its recommendation of an integrated plan (which was initiated by the NextGen Integration Working Group (NIWG) Here is what NAC laid out as a plan :

· “a Performance Based Navigation (PBN) Blueprint for Implementation” at three key metropolitan areas—Northern California, Atlanta and Charlotte

· “Closely Spaced Parallel Runways/Multiple Runway Operations” at 36 airports around the country

· DataComm-enabled Controller-Pilot DataLink Communications (CPDLC) and pre-departure clearances, Performance Based Navigation (PBN) and

· Surface and Data Sharing, to increase predictability and provide actionable and measurable surface efficiency improvements at our nation’s airports

The Deputy Administrator accepted and committed to this advice. He reminded the group that “industry stakeholders are responsible for ensuring pilot awareness of new runway and airspace procedures, equipping aircraft with DataComm technology, collaborating with the FAA on performance based navigation airspace redesign, and data sharing.”

Perhaps most significantly, and a step reinforced by a Transportation and Infrastructure Committee “request”, the Chief NextGen Officer stated that the FAA will review the NAC priorities and deliver a plan which “ meet[s] specific milestones, locations, timelines, and metrics for “high priority, high readiness” on October 17, 2014. That document will create a record by which the progress will be measured for the next three years; hitting all the marks will enhance the public’s and the users’ confidence that NextGen’s promise will be attained.

The last few paragraphs of the FAA Press Release are devoted to an independent review of NextGen. The FAA commissioned MITRE Corporation’s Center for Advanced Aviation System Development to take “stock of where NextGen is today and recommended ways to refine plans and expectations for the future.” In a 102 page report, the 56 year old not-for-profit Federally Funded Research and Development Center made the following conclusions (highlights of the findings):

· “substantial progress toward achieving the NextGen foundation since 2008, and National Airspace System (NAS) infrastructure modernization is well underway”

· “Most spending up to this point has been on infrastructure”

· “…most of the transformation and foundational infrastructure will achieve an initial baseline by 2015, with data communications services and others by 2020.”

· “…progress in delivering enhanced operational capabilities and services for airports and metropolitan areas (e.g., more efficient airport arrival, departure, and approach procedures) that are starting to provide benefits to many stakeholders.”

· “…these capabilities and services are not yet widely available and not all aircraft operators have chosen to equip their aircraft with the necessary avionics to fully leverage them; thus the benefits are not accruing uniformly across the community.”

· “…there are different perceptions within the community about the amount of progress the FAA has made on NextGen implementation”

· “…there are many gaps between the FAA’s documented descriptions of NextGen and what can reasonably be accomplished by 2020”—the three major gaps are:

o “…more effective transition planning for maturing NextGen capabilities (including training on intended operational use and the development of procedures and best practices for their use) synchronized with the user community.”

o “…: Aircraft owners and operators need to equip their aircraft with new avionics that provide aircraft capabilities needed for the planned NextGen operational capabilities and service to be used effectively.”

o “Some concepts and technology are not mature enough to meet the complete NextGen vision outlined in 2008. These elements are not yet ready for implementation by 2020.”

MITRE then establishes 6 strategies which the FAA must do to meet its long term goals. The FAA issued a long response to the MITRE report which basically acknowledges the independent recommendations.

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