Do you believe there is a prevailing lack of trust in aircraft technology to fulfil the potential of NextGen? If so, what do you think is going to change perceptions – and what is the risk of allowing a lack of trust to dominate?

Michael CaflischMike Caflisch, Boeing: Aircraft technology is not the issue; it is the policy implementation of NextGen programmes that have been slow to materialise. The prevailing lack of trust reflects a belief, with much supporting experience, that aircraft technology alone cannot fulfill the potential of NextGen. Future NextGen operations will require much greater air-ground integration than in the past.

What will change perceptions is solid systems engineering (including human-system interaction) that builds a track record of implemented operational procedures that yield benefit to airspace users. NextGen programmes are going to have equipage and training costs. Air carriers have seen good intentions with programmes in the past not come to fruition. Many of these programmes had high corresponding costs to the air carriers. Unless and until we as an industry can demonstrate it will keep our promises, there will be no improvement in the expectation of benefits being delivered to stakeholders.

Ed Sayadian, ITT Exelis: I believe that the airlines are supportive of NextGen, but cautiously investing in avionics. Their return on investment is based on a combination of factors, including their fleet profile, operational footprint, timing of benefits realisation (includes not only ground infrastructure but also policy, procedures, training, and certification), and their financial strength. To mitigate these risks, concepts such as the NextGen Equipage Fund and DataComm equipage incentives should be prioritised.

Carol HuegelCarol Huegel, Metron Aviation: I am not sure if it is trust or confidence in the technology, but I do know that our approach to safety and the safety risk management needs to keep pace with evolving technology. A more front loaded approach versus a back view analysis would certainly speed up the process and better support change. Safety regulators and professionals need to be included as operational stakeholders and encouraged to evaluate change from the research phase to the implementation phase. Developing procedures and processes without early safety intervention and inclusion is a sure receipt for slow and maybe never.

Another obvious roadblock to implementing NextGen improvements have little to do with trust and more to do with economics. It might be more appropriate to acknowledge that the number of aircraft with NextGen-enabling technology is growing as older aircraft are decommissioned and newer aircraft are built. However there is a large percentage of aircraft that are not equipped with the technology that would enable flight operators to take advantage of NextGen procedures.

As well, in light of the current economic climate, it is likely the situation will remain unchanged for quite some time. For example, not all aircraft have Data Comm capability (especially those not ACARS equipped) and therefore cannot take advantage of revised departure clearances electronically. Other examples are the large number of aircraft do not have ADS-B or are capable of RNP procedures.

Therefore, initially a large percentage of aircraft are going to require traditional approaches to ATC. It is imperative for all NextGen stakeholders to continue to quantify the benefits associated with the procedural and technical advances to justify and drive higher levels of equipage resulting in greater opportunities to realize those benefits.

Steve Fulton, GE Aviation: I think people are rightly sceptical of the idea that this is a technology problem. It requires change in how pilots fly aircraft and controllers to no longer control but manage air traffic. In order to succeed, the FAA needs to complete a metroplex project to fully socialise the change in operational concept for the benefit of the workgroups.

Jim McCoy, Raytheon: Aircraft-centric air traffic control modernisation is generally viewed as the best way to meet future operational needs and Raytheon fully supports the FAA’s NextGen initiative and associated equipage strategies. However, we also recognise that the global air traffic control landscape will likely demand more diversity of system design and implementation in the future.

Bobby SturgellBobby Sturgell, Rockwell Collins: I don’t think there is a lack of trust in the technology per se to fulfil the potential of NextGen. The vast majority of the technology needed is pretty mature. The question with respect to technology is really how far you want to take it and automate the system and its capabilities.

As far as the implementation of the technology, I think there is more of a ‘wait and see’ attitude as opposed to a lack of trust. And the best way to change that attitude is to do what you say you are going to do. In this case, it’s implementing NextGen capabilities on a timely basis that provide benefits to the operators. If you don’t meet your commitments and execute, then the attitude will not only persist, but it will likely get worse.

At Rockwell Collins, our motto is ‘building trust every day’. We take a lot of pride in meeting our commitments to our customers. Over time, that helps to build a trusted relationship with the customer. You need that type of relationship to deal with difficult problems and choices when they arise.

Roberta LeftwichRoberta Leftwich, Booz Allen: The technology that makes NextGen and SESAR possible is well understood and has been demonstrated, in large part, in operation. However, in most cases, deployment of new technology produces little or no operational benefit in the absence of accompanying changes in procedures or separation standards that are enabled by the new technology. The lack of trust in industry, specifically by air carriers, is in achieving benefits and stems from past instances in which technology and procedures were deployed, including expensive aircraft equipage, and associated benefits were either delayed or did not come close to those promised.

In the past, benefits cases and cost estimates have been performed against a single system, presuming some operational benefit from its deployment, rather than analysing the cost and benefit associated with the capability enabled by one or more systems and their accompanying procures, etc.

In many cases the cost estimates used to inform the benefits analysis has represented an under-estimate due to factors such as vague requirements, lack of understanding of the total cost over the lifetime of the system, or failure to take into account system interfaces and interdependencies.

Benefits are also difficult to accurately quantify in this isolated model given that most operational benefits require multiple enabling technologies (for example, surveillance over the ocean does not enable separation reduction without a simultaneous deployment of improved communications).

NextGen capabilities are highly interdependent and the benefits cases must be developed with this systems approach in mind. The current lack of trust in the community can be alleviated if cost-benefit analyses can be developed that are more robust and that accurately quantify the benefit that can be immediately realised by air carriers. It will take time to rebuild trust but some success stories and demonstration that benefits cases reflect reality can go a long way to getting back to a partnership with industry.

Todd Donovan, Thales ATM US: The lack of trust is not associated with the aircraft technology. There is a reticence to deploy new technologies as a result of the financial burden and the disruption of scheduled activities that results with the testing and certification of a technology. We need to find creative ways to assist industry with streamlining the certification and deployment of these technologies, minimising the disruption, and reducing the financial impact.

John O'SullivanJohn O’Sullivan, Harris Corporation: Transformational initiatives on the scale of NextGen are always met with some apprehension. However, the aviation community is very fortunate to possess a tech-savvy workforce that is generally excited and accepting of advances in technology and innovative business models. Therefore, any hesitance to change shouldn’t be misconstrued as mistrust but more likely is an indication of the inquisitive nature of a highly educated and safety conscious workforce.

In order to more smoothly move forward with NextGen, constant communication with this workforce and other stakeholders is key. Activities such as trials, demonstrations, reports, briefings, working groups, and other outreach activities are tools which can be used to inform and educate.

These tools not only serve to enhance the understanding of what the technology could make possible for all stakeholders, but also will help to provide critical feedback to contactors. Communication is in fact a two-way street. At Harris, we approach complex implementations like NextGen in partnership with the customer and broader stakeholders.  We find this approach yields the best results for all.

Posted in Avionics, NextGen, US Survey 2013

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