NextGen Is On Track For 2020, FAA Deputy Administrator Tells Senate Committee

Michael G. Whitaker, Deputy Administrator of the FAA confirmed that the NextGen program in the US is on track for timely completion by the stipulated target of 2020 in Testimony given before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Subcommittee on Aviation on NextGen: A Review of Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities for Improving Aviation Safety and Efficiency,

“This year we completed one of the most crucial foundational elements of NextGen,” Whitaker told the Committee,  “the installation of the ground infrastructure for Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, or ADS-B. This represents a key milestone in transitioning from a ground-based radar system to satellite-based GPS technology.”

ADS-B allows determination of aircraft’s location and more accurate tracking than radar. As Whitaker pointed out to the Committee: “precise and efficient spacing of aircraft, which enables airlines to take advantage of fuel-saving NextGen procedures.”

Whitaker indicated that this technology will also improve life-saving search-and-rescue operations, and gives Air Traffic Controllers “better information about an airplane’s last position, thus helping to take the “search” out of search-and-rescue.”

Additional infrastructural and system enhancements which Whitaker told the Committee software and hardware upgrades are progressing or nearing completion:

  • The En-Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) program will be complete next Spring, and legacy systems will be decommissioned.
  • The major Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACONs) will be completed by 2016.

While asserting that ADS-B foundational technology is on track for completion “well before the 2020 mandate for industry to equip with ADS-B Out,” Whitaker indicated that both the FAA and industry must be held accountable for the success of NextGen.

“We are fulfilling our part of the bargain,” Whitaker said. “Airlines and general aviation pilots must do their part and equip by the deadline to use the system we have built.”

Whitaker also testified:

“Let me be very clear. The 2020 deadline is not going to change. We are in a position to achieve this important milestone on time.”

Additionally, Whitaker assured the Committee that equipment costs have come down and that there is enough maintenance capacity to equip all aircraft, so long as aircraft owners do not “crowd repair stations to get the work done on the eve of the deadline.”

Whitaker said that much of the foundation for NextGen is already laid out and that the regulatory authorities are working with the industry to “deliver benefits now.”

The NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC), Whitaker testified, has achieved consensus in the industry on which capabilities could be delivered in the next one to three years. He received a list from NAC in September, and the NAC has since worked on defining four NextGen areas of priority.  These are: performance based navigation; surface operations; multiple runway operations and DataComm.

Whitaker also cited completion of the Houston Metroplex, as evidence of progress made, pointing out that it was one of 14 high-priority infrastructure projects selected by the Obama Administration for early completion.  The Houston project, Whitaker stated, took 30 months, established 61 new procedures using GPS technology “to untangle the congested airspace shared by multiple airports.”

He told the Committee that these new procedures will save airlines an estimated 3 million gallons of fuel per year, and reduce carbon emissions by 31,000 metric tons. “That’s the equivalent of removing more than 6,000 cars from the streets of Houston,” he said.

The plan is now to carry out similar programs in more than “a dozen busy metropolitan areas across the country.” Foundational programs for NextGen will be completed within the next 24 months, Whitaker indicated.

Beyond those foundational programs, the deployment of surface DataCom will be completed by 2018, and equipping for the full ADS-B will be completed in 2020.

Whitaker emphasized that the FAA, the aviation industry and Congress must work together “to keep NextGen funded and moving forward.”

 

My thanks to Tom Korocz for the Heads-Up.

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