What is NextGen?
Friday, June 28, 2013

NATCA Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert spoke on the first panel of the day, which gathered to discuss NextGen and each organization’s perspective of it.

ALPA, Int’l First Vice President/National Safety Coordinator Captain Sean Cassidy moderated the panel, which included the following other panelists:

  • ALPA Aviation Safety Chair Captain Chuck Hogeman;
  • Regional Airline Association (RAA) Senior Vice President of Operations and Safety Captain Scott Foose;
  • Airports Council International - North America (ACI-NA) Vice President of Safety and Regulatory Affairs Chris Oswald; and
  • International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Air Navigation Bureau Flight Operations Section Chief Mitchell Fox.

ALPA's Aviation Safety Chair Capt. Chuck Hogeman (left) and NATCA's  Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert participate in a panel briefing the importance of NextGen.

Cassidy started off the panel by discussing how glad he was the first-time symposium was being held, and wished they had only thought to gather sooner to discuss the end users’ perspectives.

Hogeman shared ALPA’s goals for NextGen, including safety improvement, pilot-centric solutions and involvement, and seeing global standards and interoperability of NextGen concepts. He also said that NextGen is never going to be finished because it’s a process that has to grow and accommodate change, such as advances in technology, aircraft and airline structure. 

“It is something that is a living, breathing process,” he said. “We’re never going to be able to throw it down on the desk and say, ‘There, we’re done with it.’”

Foose said sequestration had a huge impact on progress of NextGen, and RAA’s primary focus is to get FAA approval of NextGen aircraft procedures because RAA could spend money to equip its aircraft to execute the procedures, but then not get the required paperwork approved to use the procedures.

Fox said air traffic is projected to double in the next 15 years, and if the industry doesn’t progress with NextGen, it will have to bear the direct costs of congestions, delays and the indirect costs of increase in accidents and negative impact on environment. He reiterated Rinaldi’s earlier remark that aviation contributes enormously to the U.S. economy - $1.3 trillion - but the system needs to continue to grow, while maintaining safety and efficiency, in order to continue its success and contribution. He added that ICAO foresees NextGen challenges surrounding  investments and other financial aspects.

Gilbert first gave a background about air traffic control and its involvement in NextGen. She discussed how ATC is a small workforce; just over 12,000 certified controllers throughout the country move 70,000 takeoffs and landings every day, 4,000 to 5,000 at any given time. Noting that the workforce is full of “Type A” personalities, she emphasized how that is beneficial to the industry as controllers are relentless in overcoming challenges.

“When they’re plugged in and a situation gets complex and daunting, they stay plugged in and find a way to make it work,” she said. “That is no different when we ask them to get involved in redesigning airspace or technology projects, or anything that we ask them to do. They give it 100 percent and when things get difficult, they actually enjoy that a little bit more and figure out a way to get through the challenges.”

Gilbert continued on to say that controllers find a way to make any implemented NextGen program or piece of equipment work with the aviation system because for years they had to. Before the days of collaboration, controllers weren’t involved in the development of a lot of projects and technology development. Gilbert cited En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) as an example.

“What the FAA tends to do is they decide they need a dog and then they buy a cat,” she said. “And when the cat doesn’t act like a dog, they bring the controllers in to teach the cat how to bark.”

Gilbert emphasized that controllers are involved more than ever, thanks to collaboration, but there are still many challenges in the way of NextGen development and implementation because collaboration is not happening everywhere it should.

“Whose responsibility is that? I would challenge that it’s not just the FAA’s, or the government’s, or Congress’, but all of ours,” she said.

She then challenged the end users in the room to take on that responsibility. 

“Then you end up getting the dog you really needed and not having to teach the cat how to bark.”

Gilbert reiterated that while there are many other challenges such as funding and workforce turnover, everyone needs to buy in to get technology into the system that don’t cost more money than it should, while also enhancing safety.

“Controllers just want it to be safe and they want it to work,” she said. “If it doesn’t do that, they’ll find a way to make it work, but we can’t continue to depend on that. We need to get it funded at the beginning and deploy things that are safe and that work.”