Chief NextGen Officer delivers positive speech at AEA, but omits mention of user costs/benefits

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The “expert” messages from the DoT Inspector General, the Government Accountability Office and others about the progress of NextGen have been bleak, at best. The FAA Deputy Administrator and Chief NextGen Officer, Michael Whittaker took the podium at the 58th Aircraft Electronics Association Convention. His audience included the companies which are/will be designing and manufacturing this new equipment, but the users of this new technology were likely not in abundance. The speech has not yet been released on the FAA website; so the report of those there will be all that is available.

Here are the quotes of what the Deputy Administrator’s message was:

  • “…six years and $6 billion into what will be a 20-year-transition, NextGen is progressing ‘better than you think.’”

  • “The first phase of NextGen has been very much focused on updating the basic technology that we operate in our airspace,”

  • “So if you look at the three elements of NextGen, navigation, communication and surveillance, we’re moving down the road pretty quickly in all three of these areas,” Whitaker said. “For navigation, over half the routes in the system now are GPS routes. In communication, we have equipped 1900 airline aircraft and they’re now testing departure clearances [via datalink].”

  • “And Whitaker remains adamant that the 2020 deadline for ADS-B equipage won’t be allowed to slip.

‘Keeping that 2020 deadline in place is absolutely imperative. And it’s in everybody’s interest to keep it in place,’ he said.”

There is nothing particularly noteworthy to the presentation. Giving general comments about progress with little quantification of the costs and benefits (real, practical) does little to diminish the tenor of the debate.

The House (already) and the Senate (next Tuesday, appropriately the day before tax return day) have and will be examining all aspects of NextGen. The dialogue will become more focused and perhaps more contentious. Hopefully, the FAA’s answers to the more pointed questions about users’ costs and real benefits will “be better that you think.”

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