Next Generation Air Transportation System

Since the FAA first coined the term, NextGen has remained undefined and fluid, being used to refer to a wide variety of modernization programs.  For both the FAA’s purposes and for our own, NextGen is not just about new technology; it is encompasses realignment of facilities (link) and services, airspace redesign (link), and human factors issues that are affected by air traffic controller staffing, training, fatigue (link), and technological usability issues.

Precision of Satellite-Based Technology - NextGen is, in concept, a comprehensive overhaul of the technological and procedural aspects of the air traffic control system.  While most of the technological aspects of this project are still in the infancy of their development and their utility remains uncertain, we believe the cornerstone of NextGen will be the transition from ground-based radar surveillance to satellite-based Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) surveillance.

-  ADS-B uses GPS technology that is capable of providing more precise surveillance information and eliminating the lag time of traditional radar.

-  Greater precision allows air traffic controllers to make better-informed decisions regarding aircraft movements. 

-  If aircraft were equipped with ADS-B displays, it would allow pilots to maintain greater situational awareness, particularly during periods of poor visibility.

-  With ADS-B displays, pilots would be able to artificially “see” other aircraft even during inclement whether, giving controllers greater flexibility to use visual approach rules regardless of weather, enabling them to increase arrival rates and minimize delays.

Collaboration for Success - NATCA looks forward to this reversal of the previous Administration’s position, which ended all collaborative efforts on modernization with the exclusive representative of controllers, engineers, and other aviation safety specialists.  

-  During the last several years, the Agency checked the “controller involvement” box to appease Congress and other stakeholders by hand-selecting participants from the ranks of the controller work force and mandating their participation as part of their employment duties.  By bypassing the Union in this way, the Agency failed to ensure that these participants would represent interests and views of the air traffic controller workforce as a whole or be willing to ask challenging questions and provide alternate points of view when necessary.

-  We believe that NATCA’s participation is critical to the success of NextGen, and that it is in the best interest of the FAA and the flying public that NATCA be included in all stages of NextGen initiatives from inception through implementation. When seeking NATCA’s participation, the Agency must begin with a clear understanding of the role of each participant as well as the scope of the participant’s authority.

-  Our subject matter experts, if formally included, will enable the FAA to identify and preemptively address many of the human interface issues and other setbacks that have plagued FAA modernization efforts throughout the previous Administration.

A Call for Clarity and Accountability -
NextGen began as an FAA buzzword, referring to any number of ill-defined modernization projects.  The Aviation Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Government Accountability Office put significant pressure on the FAA to clarify and solidify its NextGen plans and establish a clear chain of responsibility.  In response to this pressure the FAA produced a series of publications that broke NextGen goals into seven “solution sets” with technical-sounding names such as Trajectory Based Operations (TBO), High Density Airports (HD), Flexible Terminals and Airports (FLEX), Collaborative Air Traffic Management (COTAM), and Reduced Weather Impact (RWI).  While these documents provided greater definition of NextGen’s goals, they failed to provide information on how these goals will be achieved and misled stakeholders about the status of NextGen.

-  The FAA’s documents imply the immediate or imminent availability of certain technological tools  when, in fact, much of the technology is still in the early stages of development.  While it is still unknown when these tools will be fully developed or how they will function, the FAA continues to publish descriptions of how air traffic patterns will be changed and how the new procedures will look. 

Prerequisites for Success

-  NowGen must not be neglected as we prepare for NextGen – We must address the air traffic controller staffing crises by taking steps to improve retention of veterans as well as new hires.  Consolidation of personnel and facilities must be done in a transparent, collaborative manner, in order to preserve safety and efficiency, and maintain today’s critical capabilities, including essential repair of facilities.

-  Human factors must be considered and addressed – Several of NextGen’s proposals raise serious concerns regarding human factors.  The FAA must work together with NATCA throughout all stages of the development of these projects to see that these issues are comprehensively addressed.

-  Redundancy must not be compromised – Several of the FAA’s NextGen plans compromise the redundancy necessary to maintain safety.  Such plans include realignment of facilities and services throughout the country.  HR 915 contains language that increases transparency by requiring the creation of a workgroup of stakeholders to comprehensively consider, report, and make recommendations regarding FAA realignment initiatives prior to the FAA beginning the realignment process.  This process will ensure that realignment plans do not compromise redundancy or safety, but instead enhance operational services, provide continued or improved safety, support and facilitate modernization of the NAS, are cost effective, and the impact on stakeholders is addressed and mitigated.  Current FAA realignment plans must be halted and reconsidered until after the process contained in HR 915 becomes law.