Everyone talks about ‘low-hanging fruit’, but in your opinion what immediate actions need to be taken to implement NextGen processes and technologies?

Chris-BenichChris Benich, Honeywell: We have transitioned out of the ‘low-hanging fruit’ stage. Further progress requires a well-defined plan with leadership from the FAA and close partnership with all stakeholders. Budget issues are a legitimate concern and the FAA needs to restructure the implementation plan such that it is affordable, given the current fiscal realities. However, NextGen is still progressing, and technologies are currently being implemented, such as performance-based navigation and ground based augmentation systems.

Ed Sayadian, ITT Exelis: The FAA has done a great job acquiring and implementing the capabilities and infrastructure needed to enable NextGen benefits (e.g. ADS-B, SWIM, PBN, etc.). They have also realised the importance of developing policy, procedures, and standards to support these capabilities and improve operations (i.e. oceanic in-trail procedures, RNP procedures, etc.).

Continued emphasis should be placed on efforts to further NextGen progress. This would include awarding the next wave of critical enabling programmes (e.g. TFDM, AIMM, etc.); continued standardisation of operational concepts (e.g. reduced separation, CDM, etc.); and further procedures work (e.g. OAPM, RNP, etc.).  The promise of NextGen is not the result of an individual system or capability, but the combined benefit derived from the integrated improvement of the entire enterprise.

Carol HuegelCarol Huegel, Metron Aviation: There are certainly efforts ripe for a quick field implementation. It is a matter of setting the right priorities based on operational impacts and benefits. Including our operators and stakeholders in the development of these priorities is key. What is on the short list and how do we build off of these short term initiatives? We need to ask one very fundamental question; ‘do these short term efforts increase our ability to enhance the safe, orderly and expeditious flow of air traffic?’  If it does, then the advertised goals of NextGen such as reduced fuel burn, fewer delays, lower operating costs and increased airport capacity will be met.

By no means am I suggesting we create another board or advisory council – just the opposite. I am suggesting that we confuse the operation with a programme. Someone needs to lead a prioritised list of today’s tool set and the operators and safety professionals need to collaborate on the deliveries. We cannot continue to have support organisations thinking they set priorities and have the primary say or even an equal say in what and how the NAS will operate tomorrow and next year.

In this case, less is more and someone needs to be in charge of mapping the future. We are at a critical juncture where we need to take small steps and build momentum, not wait for the total package.  Fielding precise and reliable tools that enhance the flying experience, while upgrading the NAS, is ready today. It is time to turn NextGen into NowGen.

Jim McCoy, Raytheon: Foundational activities such as the FAA’s Terminal Automation Modernization Replacement programme will ensure that, as the NextGen technologies emerge, their integration and utilisation can be fully maximised. In many cases, the upgrades to these foundational aspects of the air traffic control system result in benefits themselves, even before the NextGen enhancements arrive.

Bobby SturgellBobby Sturgell Rockwell Collins: The most prominent low-hanging fruit continues to be the ability to implement RNP/RNAV approaches in the system and to have them used by the operators. Not only will this give the operators’ confidence in FAA’s ability to transition the system but it will also provide substantial time and fuel savings, which will be good for passengers and good for the environment.

To do this, the FAA needs to continue to work with the operators to identify the areas where RNP/RNAV approaches will have the most benefit and to get them developed. The FAA also needs to accelerate the training of its controller workforce in the area and put in place the policies needed to permit these approaches to be used consistently, every day. When pilots request RNP approaches that can save them time and fuel, the air navigation service provider has to be in a position to permit that operation to take place.

In another area which could fall under the ‘low hanging fruit’ category, the FAA deserves credit for its recent work on wake turbulence. This is another area where today’s technologies are allowing us to re-examine separation standards that are decades old. The revised standards should allow us to increase efficiency using both in-trail procedures and parallel approaches.

Steve Fulton, GE Aviation:

  • Priority on the development of full concept PBN in the NAS — Runway to Runway including en route and transition and development of RNP departures
  • Separation standard improvements — RNP Established
  • Timing/Sequencing Tools to allow controllers to clear PBN Traffic
  • Leverage Commercial Capabilities – Public Private Partnerships
  • Highest priority should be on the creation of benefit for operators

The US airline industry has been clear in what they are asking for from the FAA. They want full PBN implementation in the metroplex airports, operating in all weather conditions, at peak traffic demand.

This is a simple statement, but in order to do this, a lot of things have to happen: 1. RNAV/RNP path deployment using all available resources, including newly available environmental review processes, tools, and resources. This includes minimum utilization of ‘Optimized Profile Descent’; rather, the effort will focus on eliminating outdated and unnecessary legacy airspace structures that mitigate the opportunities to fly continuous (different than current FAA OPD work) descent vertical arrival paths. In addition, attention will be given to separate the arrival and descent routes to make maximum utilisation of continuous climb RNP/RNAV departures.

2. New separation standards allowing curved RNP transitions to parallel runways in IMC with supporting regulatory document changes for controllers and pilots.

3. The necessary controller/ground automation tools to support merging of traffic close to the runway from various transitions and maintain minimum in-trail separation. This includes the capability to assign sequence of aircraft prior to each aircraft’s top of descent to ensure maximum utilization of continuous descent paths at idle power.

4. Surface movement intelligence to minimise inefficiency, improve predictability of movements between the gates and the runways, and minimise runway incursion risk.

Michael-Caflisch---2Mike Caflisch, Boeing: NextGen is at the root of changing air and ground operations for better efficiency, capacity and safety by bringing the information revolution to air traffic management. Immediate actions should focus on safety analyses and rule changes that enable the use of the technology and information capabilities existing in much of the current fleet; that is, those that enable new operations and procedures that increase airline operational efficiency.

To that end, it is necessary to make a policy change, like UK NATS has done, to make it the controllers’ job to not only separate airplanes safely but also to operate the system efficiently from the airlines’ and passengers’ perspective.

For example, Southwest Airlines and others trying to embrace RNP approaches is indicative of the problems of NextGen implementation – the industry makes investments and the implementation lags behind.  Airlines invested millions of dollars in equipment and training, worked with FAA on implementation, but frequent requests for RNP approaches are not getting approved by the controllers. The FAA is measuring the number of RNP approaches developed, not the number of RNPs actually flown.

Provide controllers with the training and automation tools that they need to allow Optimized Profile Descents on RNAV and RNP procedures in all traffic conditions. These include adapting TBFM with new RNAV/RNP procedures, implementing the Enhanced Descent Advisor and Terminal Sequencing and Spacing in TBFM, ERAM and STARS.

Sandy Samuel, Lockheed Martin: Continued collaboration between NextGen stakeholders, through venues like the NextGen Advisory Committee, will help us to continue our adaptable NextGen roadmap and bring enhancements to the air transport system that improve it for all stakeholders.

In parallel with deployment of new technologies, it’s also important to continue implementing collaboration processes such as Optimization of Airspace and Procedures in the Metroplex or Greener Skies. These processes are enabling broad and effective use of existing technologies.

Long range, we see ongoing opportunities to improve national airspace efficiency by enabling greater collaborative decision making, improving surface operations and continuing to place advanced decision support and automation tools at controllers’ disposal.

Roberta Leftwich, Booz Allen: NextGen is, of course, an extremely complex system-of-systems implementation that spans technology, procedures, airspace design, training, human resources and many other factors. Such an undertaking necessarily spans years and involves in-depth planning and analysis.

In order to maximize early benefits, NextGen stakeholders should conduct a review of currently deployed infrastructure and answer two important questions: first, what operational benefits could be gained through procedural or training enhancements (e.g., new performance based navigation routes and procedures, separation reduction, increased airport throughput); and second, where have technology and procedures already been deployed but are under utilised (e.g., existing PBN approaches, closer adherence to existing standards).  These recommendations are consistent with those made by the RTCA Task Force 5 that the FAA has pledged to implement, with varying degrees of success thus far.

The early benefit activities described above should not supplant the longer-term planning and implementation activities of NextGen but, rather, be conducted in parallel. Should these activities take priority over development and implementation of an actionable and stable, integrated plan for NextGen the result would simply be that NextGen, as envisioned, would not come fruition in full for many years after its target date of 2025.

Todd DonovanTodd Donovan, Thales ATM US: The most urgent action is to have a stable roadmap for the technology, process and policy changes which are going to be implemented. Airspace users need a roadmap since the replacement or upgrade cycle for aircraft and avionics are very long. The same is true for the FAA, airports and all ANSPs. Industry needs this roadmap so we can make intelligent investment in new technology which starts many years and often a decade ahead of technology deployment.

The ICAO Aviation System Block Upgrades are a great step in right direction providing a framework and guideline for how to move forward for everyone in the industry.

One of the big risks right now is insufficient trials and pilot projects related to those elements of NextGen which have a more dramatic impact on current technology, processes and procedures.  I have not been involved in any new solution where significant changes weren’t discovered through field trials/prototypes (including ADS-B, Data Comm, multilateration, wireless communication, etc.).  You can’t finalise a solution in the lab. We need to work on the long-term solutions in parallel with the short-term, low-hanging fruit.

John O’Sullivan, Harris Corporation: System-Wide Information Management, or SWIM, is an excellent example of ‘low hanging fruit’. Through the establishment of this enterprise, the FAA has made great strides in laying the foundation for current and future data sharing opportunities. By providing consumers with access to this information, aviation stakeholders are able to make more intelligible decisions about NAS operations. As a result of SWIM, many programmes at the FAA are only months away from sharing their rich data and information to the enterprise.

Continuing this progression of enterprise-wide data sharing is an important element of NextGen and an area where we should continue to focus great energy. Governance of SWIM data also needs to be addressed. Encouraging discussions with key stakeholders regarding the governance of how to access this information through the FAA’s Data Release Policy will be key to its success.

Anything that encourages network-centric information sharing will benefit all stakeholders. From a processes standpoint, the NextGen Advisory Committee is an excellent example of an organisation that is assisting with the prioritisation of activities focused on getting results for the industry at large. From a technology standpoint, the Collaborative Decision Making group constantly strives to utilise the data and services that it has access for improvement to NAS operations. All of this is possible through SWIM.

These examples, and more, provide evidence that considerable progress has been made toward implementing NextGen and that a great foundation for continued success is in place. However, fiscal headwinds make it imperative that stable funding remain in place in order for the FAA to realise its vision for NextGen.

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