NATCA this week publicly highlighted the positive working relationship it has developed with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the progress they have made to modernize the National Airspace System (NAS).
In conjunction with the first of three 2017 meetings of the NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC), which RTCA has effectively facilitated for the past seven years, NAC Member and NATCA President Paul Rinaldi said there is much to be proud of as NextGen implementation continues. He cautioned, however, that a stable, predictable funding stream for the NAS is needed to ensure this progress continues and is not undermined.
“The FAA, NATCA and all aviation stakeholders have enjoyed a very productive and collaborative relationship for nearly a decade,” Rinaldi said. “Since 2009, we have focused on working together to modernize the system as we maintain the safety and efficiency of the world’s busiest, most complex, most diverse, and safest airspace. This is no simple task. In 2016 alone, controllers worked 141 million operations, an increase over the 130 million just four years ago, and helped over 900 million passengers safely reach their destinations.
“As modernization continues, policymakers must be focused on identifying a stable, predictable funding stream so that efficiency can continue to improve as we expand access to the NAS for UAS, commercial space, and any other new users.”
In collaboration with NATCA and industry stakeholders, the FAA has delivered $2.7 billion in benefits to date, completing 103 commitments of the NextGen and NAC Prioritization Plan. The Agency is on or ahead of schedule with some of the most critical programs. NextGen progress across the NAS includes advancements in communications programs, surveillance, automation, integration and information management, and airspace efficiency optimization efforts in several key locations as part of the Metroplex program.
Among the major collaborative successes achieved by NATCA and the FAA is the implementation of En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM), the operating system for en route facilities that replaced a 50-plus year old system. ERAM is the baseline chassis on which all other NextGen projects must work to be successful. Prior to NATCA’s involvement, the program was over budget and behind schedule. Once the FAA prioritized collaboration with NATCA, ERAM became a functional, successful program.
DataComm, the system for automating communication between controllers and pilots to increase efficiency, is another prime example. In late 2015, just before the program was set to be rolled out in over 70 terminal facilities, NATCA and the FAA determined that the training for the workforce was inadequate. NATCA worked diligently and collaboratively with the FAA to revamp the training in a timely manner. Thanks to this effort, DataComm is now operational in 73 terminal facilities. This was accomplished ahead of schedule and under budget despite an extremely aggressive implementation schedule. Just recently, the FAA’s Joint Resources Council (JRC) has approved funding to expand DataComm with additional functionality for some current DataComm facilities, and to introduce DataComm to other facilities that are not currently using it.
NATCA's collaborative efforts have also yielded major accomplishments in the following modernization programs: Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), System-Wide Information Management (SWIM), Surface Operations and Data Sharing, Terminal Flight Data Manager (TFDM), and Time-Based Flow Management.
NATCA Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert said that continuing this collaborative relationship is essential to allow NextGen upgrades to truly take root.
“Through collaboration, the FAA and NATCA have been able to deliver real cost savings on NextGen projects that would not otherwise be possible," she said. "Administrator Michael Huerta has been an important part of this relationship and we hope to keep the relationship strong as we move forward. A stable, predictable funding stream will be essential to doing so.”