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Legislative Issues: Modernization and Infrastructure

(Updated May 15, 2018)

QUICK REFERENCE

  1. The FAA is lagging behind in efforts to modernize outdated technology and replace or repair its rapidly aging infrastructure.
  1. By working together collaboratively, the FAA and NATCA have achieved some near-term success on NextGen projects such as En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM), DataComm, and Metroplex.
  1. A stable, predictable funding stream is necessary to continue to modernize the system and improve our physical infrastructure.

HOW THIS ISSUE AFFECTS NATCA MEMBERS

NATCA and the FAA have achieved several collaborative successes on NextGen projects over the last eight years such as ERAM, DataComm, and Metroplex. However, the FAA is still lagging behind in its effort to modernize its technology and upgrade its aging physical infrastructure. Stop-and-go funding threatens to derail these programs, while any further degradation of controller staffing numbers and/or attacks on official time would cripple the FAA’s ability to deliver NextGen technologies on time and under budget.

FULL BACKGROUND

ISSUE

In terms of air traffic control (ATC) technology, the FAA is lagging behind in efforts to modernize outdated technology and its rapidly aging physical infrastructure. The FAA has frequently been criticized for its management of NextGen, but many have not seen the full picture. NATCA takes great pride in our role as a partner in developing and implementing important modernization projects in recent years. The FAA, NATCA, and other aviation stakeholders have enjoyed a positive, productive, and collaborative relationship for nearly a decade. Since 2009, we have focused on working together to modernize the system as we maintain the safety and efficiency of the world’s safest, busiest, and most complex airspace. As a result, the FAA’s development and deployment of NextGen programs have improved over time, but much work remains to be done. In order for NextGen to be successfully completed in a timely fashion and at the lowest possible cost to taxpayers, the FAA needs a stable, predictable funding stream. Without a stable and predictable funding stream, NextGen modernization programs will continue to be threatened by delays and funding shortages that will jeopardize their success.

MESSAGE

A stable and predictable funding stream is essential to meeting the modernization and physical infrastructure needs of the FAA. Collaboration is also necessary, but the FAA’s controller staffing crisis looms as a threat to modernization and collaboration. Congressional attempts to eliminate official time would severely cripple the FAA’s ability to deliver NextGen technologies in a timely fashion and at the lowest possible cost to taxpayers. Thanks to collaboration between the FAA and NATCA, we have achieved several successes on NextGen projects including ERAM, DataComm, and Metroplex.

BACKGROUND

Modernization & NextGen

NextGen describes the primary, comprehensive modernization project that is shifting the FAA from its current ground-based radar system to a smarter, satellite-based aircraft tracking system and digital technologies, along with new procedures that will enable the FAA to guide and track aircraft more precisely on more direct routes. NextGen is producing efficiencies that enhance safety, reduce delays, save fuel, and reduce aircraft exhaust emissions. NextGen is also vital to preserving the United States’ position as the world’s leader in aviation. This is important due to the significant contribution aviation makes to our economy.

Although the FAA has been criticized for its management of NextGen, NATCA takes great pride in our role as a partner on the leading edge of these important modernization projects. In fact, the FAA and NATCA have developed a strong collaborative relationship and are experiencing meaningful progress within many of the key NextGen programs. In collaboration with NATCA and industry stakeholders, the FAA has delivered $2.7 billion in benefits to date, completing 103 commitments of NextGen and the NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC) Prioritization Plan.

Collaboration between the FAA and NATCA allows the Agency to deliver cost savings on NextGen projects that would not otherwise be possible. If NATCA representatives were not involved, many NextGen programs would need to go through extensive, costly, and time-consuming revisions following testing and/or implementation. Through collaboration, the FAA is on or ahead of schedule with some of its most critical modernization programs.

Despite this progress, further staffing reductions — such as a hiring freeze or furloughs — would have a detrimental effect on system capacity and NextGen. In 2013, sequestration and the resulting April 2013 furloughs, as well as the October 2013 government shutdown, created needless delays in the development, design, and implementation of NextGen and increased costs in these key modernization programs for our aviation system. The shuttering and reactivation of NextGen programs not only delayed their progress, but also increased costs.

Without a stable and predictable funding stream, NextGen modernization programs will continue to be threatened by delays and funding shortages that will jeopardize their success.

FAA’s Rapidly Aging Physical Infrastructure

The FAA operates more than 300 air traffic control facilities of varying ages and conditions. The FAA’s 20 Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCCs) located in the continental United States were built in the 1960s and are more than 50 years old. The FAA’s large, stand-alone Terminal Radar Approach Control facilities (TRACONs) are, on average, 25 years old. In addition, the FAA has 132 combined TRACON/Towers, which average nearly 35 years old. Finally, the FAA has another 131 stand-alone towers which average almost 30 years old; the oldest is 75 years old.

The FAA has begun the process of addressing its aging infrastructure through a combination of realignments, sustaining and maintaining some facilities, and replacing a handful of others. However, that process has been slow and hampered by stop-and-go funding.

For example, the FAA is replacing Charlotte TRACON/Tower (CLT), which is approximately 35 years old. Similarly, San Francisco Tower (SFO) was approximately 28 years old when it was replaced. To replace Las Vegas Tower and Las Vegas TRACON, which were about 31 and 29 years old, respectively, the FAA built one facility to replace two buildings. The FAA needs a stable, predictable funding stream in order to adequately maintain and replace its aging infrastructure in the coming years.