NATCA Participates in NextGen Conference
Friday, September 21, 2012

National NextGen Representative Mel Davis (Southern California TRACON) and International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations (IFATCA) Observer to the ICAO Air Navigation Commission (ANC) Dr. Ruth Stilwell

NATCA continued to strengthen its credentials as a key NextGen collaborative stakeholder this week by providing perspective and expertise during the Avionics for NextGen conference in Atlantic City, N.J.

Former NATCA Executive Vice President Dr. Ruth Stilwell (Miami Center) who serves as the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations (IFATCA) Observer to the ICAO Air Navigation Commission (ANC), moderated a panel entitled, “Global NextGen: Ensuring Worldwide Harmonizaton.” She began her remarks with a story:

A regulator, an operator, and a service provider walk into a bar.

The bartender says, "get out of here, I told you guys never to come back.”

As they are standing outside wondering what happened, the auditor walks up and says, "well what do you expect? Last time you were here, you ordered all of the top shelf liquor, then no one was willing to pay for it."

“Harmonization is not just agreeing on the what,” Stilwell told the audience, “but also the when and the how. In order to take the next step in building capacity and efficiency into a truly global aviation system, it is critical that we seek global solutions that involve both the service providers and the users. Moving forward in a coordinated way is not easy. For the first time in our collective history, the major constraints are not maturity and viability of the technology, but rather the policy, requirements, and technology implementation strategy.”

Stilwell stressed that supporting a business case and funding are critical to successful implementation. “There is global consensus that we need to agree on common platforms, but is it possible to agree on common timelines for both operators and users? Major investments are required on both sides. This is compounded by the global financial crisis, which has affected governments and industry alike. So how do we prepare for the future in a somewhat uncertain present?”

Stilwell’s panel, which included Gerald Dillingham, the Director of Physical Infrastructure for the Government Accountability Office, then talked through those very difficult questions and looked at the implementation challenge with a very real world perspective.

Also representing NATCA was National NextGen Representative Mel Davis (Southern California TRACON), who participated in a panel entitled, “Making the Investment – What is Needed to Close NextGen’s Business Case.” The panel also addressed the impact that budget and the current state of the economy have on NextGen as well as the question of what is needed to make the benefits of NextGen clear and ensure operators are getting a return on their investment.

Davis was pleased to see on his panel a representative from the Department of Transportation Inspector General’s office, Matthew Hampton, who stressed a key point made in a recent IG report on NextGen – that there is a need for increased controller training and automation for merging and spacing tools needs.

Davis’s main points were mixed equipage and the fact that ATC modernization has lagged behind flight deck advances.

“Many aircraft are capable of extremely precise navigation and provide their pilots with high levels of automated flight capabilities, while controller automation is still in the early stages of upgrade,” he said.

It’s crucial now that air traffic control modernization makes advances, Davis added, because “many in the aviation community now concede that controllers are essential and realize and endorse the need for ground based enhancements to leverage flight deck capabilities.” Long gone, Davis said, is the thought that ATC functions and tasks would be handled by the flight crew.