Information sharing could reduce scepticism on both sides of the Atlantic: GAO

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Europe are generally using effective collaborative practices although mitigating stakeholder scepticism about realizing NextGen/SESAR benefits will be a challenge, according to a new report.
The report by the US watchdog, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), said the two aviation blocks were working collaboratively toward ensuring interoperability as they modernise their air traffic control systems (NextGen and SESAR) but found that near term challenges could delay implementation.
Interoperable NextGen and SESAR systems and procedures will be important for aircraft to seamlessly transition from one system to the other.
The GAO report discusses the efforts that FAA has taken to ensure the interoperability of NextGen with SESAR and how those efforts compare with effective interagency collaboration practices.
To address these issues, GAO reviewed agreements between the US and the EU concerning collaborative research on air traffic management and documents related to NextGen and SESAR; reviewed the literature on effective collaboration; and interviewed FAA and EU officials.
“FAA is generally following collaborative practices that we have observed in successful interagency collaborations, but some US and EU stakeholders expressed scepticism about whether NextGen’s and SESAR’s benefits will ever be realised,” said the report authors.
The FAA and the EU have been working collaboratively toward NextGen and SESAR interoperability for some time.
In 2006, FAA and the European Commission established a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that allowed reciprocal participation in meetings, which provided each with an awareness of the other’s plans.
The MOU also continued a long-standing agreement that fostered collaborative research and helped develop some of the central concepts of NextGen and SESAR, such as data communications and satellite-based surveillance.
Additionally, the FAA and the EU conducted demonstrations of NextGen/SESAR procedures and technologies that produced useful results at the airports involved in the demonstrations.
In March 2011, the FAA and the EU signed a separate Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) that established a formal collaborative structure for NextGen and SESAR. Outside of formal agreements, US and EU standards bodies have also formed joint committees to develop common standards for NextGen and SESAR systems. Additionally, the FAA and the EU are working with an international standards organisation to facilitate global interoperability.
“The FAA and EU officials share a common goal—interoperability. Having a common goal is a characteristic of effective collaborative efforts. Also consistent with effective practices, the 2011 MOC provides a strategy for working together and provides the means to operate across US-EU boundaries,” said the GAO.
However, while effective information exchange was taking place the GAO said the FAA could help reduce stakeholder scepticism by providing, in its public documents, details on the new structure for collaboration and governance with the EU.
“Some US and European stakeholders expressed scepticism about whether those benefits will ever be realized, while others were unaware of the MOC’s details, such as its structure and governance for achieving interoperability. Although FAA has long collaborated with Europe, it has not disseminated information about these efforts in public documents, such as its strategic plans and performance reports,” added the GAO.
It said that such information could not only reduce scepticism on both sides of the Atlantic about realising the future benefits of NextGen and SESAR but also reduce airlines’ hesitancy to equip NextGen’s advanced technologies.
The GAO recommends that the FAA takes steps to better inform aviation stakeholders of efforts toward interoperability.
“To improve accountability for, and the credibility of, such efforts, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to publicly provide more details on the efforts FAA has taken and planned toward NextGen/SESAR interoperability, such as through strategic plans, performance reports, or other means,” the GAO concluded.