The implementation of NextGen is at a critical point. Congress is scrutinizing the slowness of the FAA’s implementation. The NRC, the OIG and the GAO have heaped on criticisms of the management of this largest civil technology project. The aviation users have questioned the benefits of the satellite-based navigation system and all of the upgrades of the ATC. In a most timely article, Assistant Administrator for NextGen General Bolton announced a new prioritization.
Second-in-command to Deputy Administrator and Chief NextGen Officer Michael Whittaker, Bolton gave an interview which is intended to demonstrate that the FAA has received the stakeholders’ message on delivering NextGen elements with immediate benefits. He is quoted in a related article as saying:
“So, Bolton says, the FAA is changing its approach. Rather than laying all of the infrastructure across the country and then building on top of it, the agency is trying to roll out the low-hanging fruit at the country’s biggest airports, partnering with airlines, airports, and pilots’ groups to identify heavy-congestion areas and show real results there.
‘One of the challenges is people who say, ‘You spend all this money, what do you have?’ People don’t just want infrastructure, so we’re working on deliverables,’ Bolton said.
‘It’s difficult to tell the story of all the infrastructure changes, so now we’re trying to focus on the benefits,’ Bolton added. ‘Looking to 2030, our numbers are impressive, but people are interested in what happens to them at the airport, and companies are focused on what happens to them at the end of the quarter.’”
ALPA’s Keith Hagy, director of engineering and air safety, stated that the new Bolton approach is encouraging. A4A’s Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice president of legislative and regulatory policy, appreciated the new agenda, but found fault with the FAA’s tardiness. NATCA’s President Paul Rinaldi felt that implementing the technology at the big demand airports was wise, but expressed real concerns over finding and implementing a long term funding source.
While these reactions are generally positive in tone, they all seem to be saying that the Bolton commitment needs to be proven by timely implementation. A “wait and see” approach, while FAA Reauthorization and NextGen’s Congressional approval are pending, places considerable pressure on Whittaker, Bolton, their headquarters team and their staff in the field.