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ATCA 2012: NATCA NextGen Representative Mel Davis - (10/4/2012)

NATCA NextGen Representative Mel Davis (center) is joined by Colonel Fred "Jazz" Armstrong, Department of Defense, and Pam Whitley, FAA Manager NextGen Solution Set Integration Group.

NATCA NextGen Representative Mel Davis laid out a clear, strong message about the future of NextGen before an ATCA annual conference panel audience Tuesday, Oct. 2. The panel focused on whether the program would be in jeopardy if funding cuts and sequestration impact the agency’s modernization plans.

“There are storm clouds and they are significant, but in spite of that, an opportunity exists,” said Davis, who, by outlining three key areas, put forth an optimistic assessment of where NextGen is at and where it’s headed:

  1. Leadership. “Acting Administrator Huerta has delivered a strong message about collaborating, not just with the workforce, but with general aviation, air carriers, the military and the local communities,” Davis said. “There is a clear commitment of what NextGen is and what its priorities are. Good people will coalesce behind good leaders.”
  2. Commitment. “The FAA is getting honest about laying the foundation for the future,” Davis said. “Things like DataComm are game-changers. We will see the benefits many years down the road.”
  3. Impact. “The impact of aviation on the economy is good—10 million jobs and $1.3 trillion annually. This impact will provide a soft landing (in terms of costs for NextGen) that will tell us that this is worth doing and worth doing well.”

The panel took a close look at the hard questions about prioritizing projects and how to determine which current systems could one day be turned off to save money. That money could then fund new systems.

“If we look upon the way we do business the way we’ve always done in the past, we’ll miss the boat,” said panelist Chris Metts, FAA ATO Vice President of Program Management. “We have to work together and we have to make hard decisions.” For example, Metts continued, “what do we turn off to accommodate the DataComm projects of the world?”

Davis said that moving forward, it will be critical for the agency to show how the new systems are performing and the efficiency gains that are being made.

“I was shocked to find out that we don’t have ways to measure Performance Based Navigation (PBN), and that frustrates me,” Davis said. “If we can’t measure, we can’t feed back to the leaders where the system is being used and how effectively. That’s critical.”

However, Davis added, “the good news is that we’re turning data into information and that is key to making informed, correct decisions moving forward.”

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