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Boeing and Airbus Working Together to Make NextGen ATC a Reality

If you browse through this blog at all it will become apparent rather quickly that I am a huge proponent of NextGen ATC technology.  Call me crazy, but when it has been proven that there is a system that exists to replace decades old technology to make something more efficient, effective, and safe, I think we should act quickly to implement it.

While it is not happening as quickly as some people would like to see, it is happening.  Just last week Qatar Airways flew a RNP-AR approach into Nepal.  This week Frontier Airlines received certification from the FAA to fly the same types of approaches in the US.

I find it interesting that both of these events share a common trait.  They are both heavily impacted by high terrain.  Nepal is one of the most mountainous countries in the world, and Frontier does a huge amount of business through Denver which is nestled high in the mountains of Colorado.

These applications are where the safety impact of NextGen becomes so apparent.  Navigational aids are all based on line of sight, which makes it incredibly difficult for ground-based navigational aids to be effective in mountainous regions.  While GPS still requires line of sight with satellites, it is much easier to achieve that with the satellites positioned overhead as opposed to the being on the ground where they can easily be blocked by mountains.

While both of these press releases come from Airbus, it is important to note that both Airbus and Boeing are actually working together to make this new system a reality.  On Airbus’s ProSky website, which is essentially their ATC arm, they have a long description of how the two airlines are cooperating to improve the whole system.

Boeing and Airbus are two of the biggest corporate competitors in the world, so to see them work together on something says a lot about its importance.

For those who may not really understand what exactly NextGen is, Boeing has an article that does a great job of explaining some of the most important technology, namely the ADS-B and how it works to improve air travel for everyone involved.

February 5, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

NextGen ATC: Creating Highways in the Sky

I have been a big fan of NextGen ever since I first heard about it a decade ago.  It just makes sense that creating more efficient routes would be good for business.  It saves time and money and is better for the environment.

It may not be quite as easy for those that are not familiar with aviation to understand the value of this new technology, but Steve Fulton of GE Aviation wrote a great piece that describes NextGen as creating “highways in the sky”.

It is really so simple that I can’t believe I haven’t seen the comparison before.  By streamlining the system it is unreal the amount of time, money, and fuel that can be saved.  According to Steve’s article, deploying these new routes at 46 regional airports across the country would result in the following savings: 12.9 million gallons of fuel, $65.6 million, 274.6 million pounds of CO2 emissions, and 747 days of time.

If those numbers don’t open your eyes to the value of the system, I don’t know what will.  Keep in mind, that is only at 46 airports, not including any of the major ones, and they are the ones that could use improved systems more than anyone else.

As we move forward with the implementation of NextGen and companies start to realize all of these savings, I hope it works to expedite the process even more.  They always say that money talks, and there is no industry where that is more true these days than in aviation.

July 18, 2012 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

User Fee Debate Overshadows FAA Reauthorization Bill

It is amazing how something so good can happen at the same time as something so dumb.  On Tuesday, President Obama signed into law the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 which provides four years and $63.4-billion in funding for the FAA.  This follows 23 short-term funding bills over the past five years.

All of the experts applauded this action as it provides a certain amount of stability for an organization that has been in limbo for half of a decade.  Most people overlook the fact that the lack of funding for the FAA has also meant a lack of funding for a lot of very important airport development projects.

The irony of the situation is that just the day before, on Monday, President Obama released a budget that included user fees of  $100 per flight as well as increasing the passenger security fee from as low as $2.50 to as high as $7.50 over the next 6 years.  This increase could cause very serious issues for an industry that is still struggling in a variety of ways.

It is amazing to me that you could do something so detrimental the day before doing something so valuable.

The first concern is obviously money.  Aviation companies, both commercial and business, are struggling to make ends meet in any way that they can.  Commercial airlines will not be affected quite as much since they will simply pass the fee on to the passengers which they won’t really notice either since the $100 per flight will spread out to less than a dollar for most flights.

The security fee will be worse, but again, airlines will pass it along to the passengers, and with the high price of tickets most people will simply write it off.  But I know that I for one am tired of paying more and more for plane tickets.

Bigger business aviation companies will also not feel the pinch nearly as much since $100 really isn’t that big of a deal when you are dropping tens of thousands of dollars on fuel for every trip.  The real pain will be felt by the little guys who have less of an impact on fuel purchases, but who are responsible for a much larger portion of the total flights.

These smaller jets routinely purchase only a few hundred dollars worth of fuel because that is all they need.  They also fight tooth and nail to not pay landing fees at FBO’s because even $50 more for each flight makes a huge difference to their bottom line.  Having worked at an FBO I have seen how hard these guys fight for every dollar, because they have to.

Now they are proposing that these users pay an additional $100 for each and every flight, if they fly in controlled airspace.  Talk about a gray area.  Even people who teach aviation have a tough time defining what exactly controlled airspace is.

Does that mean that every little single-engine prop is going to have to come up with an extra $100 for every flight when they are only spending $50 on fuel?  But this becomes a much bigger issue than just money.

If the choice is between paying $100 and simply flying VFR instead of IFR, then what choice are most of these little guys going to make?  A lot of them are flying short legs anyways, so how hard is it to just fly VFR?  The vast majority of passengers won’t even realize that their safety is at risk as opposed to being under the control of air traffic controllers.

They use the excuse that aviation needs to pay for its own security, which in principle I don’t have any problem with.  The problem that I have is that the government continues to impose new rules and regulations and then expecting users to just eat the costs.  In reality, how much safer are we now than we used to be?

My own personal feelings about TSA will have to wait for another day, but the point is that the government once again feels that throwing money at a problem will be a solution despite all of the evidence to the contrary.  Look at most government-funded programs and you will see that money is generally not the real issue.

So, while I am ecstatic that the FAA is now funded for a period that will allow some serious work to take place on NextGen ATC, and a bunch of other badly needed development, I hate to see that the government is asking for even more of a sacrifice from an industry that is already struggling.  Pretty much every sector is struggling, and they all need to make changes and pull their own weight, but the changes to these fees simply is not the answer.

February 16, 2012 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

“NextGen: Transforming our National Airspace System into the Next Century of Flight”

Below you will find the full text of a speech given by Michael Huerta, the acting administrator of the FAA, during the New Horizons Forum.  The Forum was held in conjunction with the AIAA Aerospace Sciences meeting in Nashville, TN.

He brings up a lot of interesting, and incredibly important topics that I will discuss further in the coming days, but I felt the full text was valuable.  With all of the confusion in the government, and the FAA in particular his comments are very thought-provoking.

January 10, 2012

New Horizons Forum

Thank you for that kind introduction. It’s a pleasure to be here in Nashville with all of you today.

This is truly a pivotal time in aviation history.We are moving into the Next Generation air transportation system, or NextGen – transforming from the ground-based navigation of the last century to the satellite-based navigation of tomorrow.

We are also moving towards an aviation system that will be safer, more efficient and environmentally sustainable – with more direct routes, fewer delays and more predictability.

It’s not just the United States. The entire world is changing the way it handles air traffic.

Now, we know that in order to meet the challenges of transforming our air traffic control system in the next 15 years, the FAA as an organization must also evolve.

Our agency grew around 1950s-era technology and software systems. And, I might add that these systems are extremely safe and work very well.

During that same time period, the computing power of a mainframe that took up an entire room now fits in a light-weight tablet. Cameras have evolved from film to digital. And the number of Web sites has grown exponentially from hundreds in the early 1990s to hundreds of millions today.

Likewise, we need to transform our system for managing air traffic too; NextGen is the way of the future. We cannot afford to be left behind, and it’s important that all of us embrace this process.

In many ways, the FAA is at a tipping point where we have a lot of things happening at once.

We have the immense technological change of NextGen on the one hand, and we have a generational change in our workforce on the other.

Change of this magnitude is not easy, but it is a unique and exciting opportunity for all of us. We are facing a whole new way of thinking and operating. And we are positioning ourselves with stretch goals to meet these challenges in the months and years ahead.

We have taken a good long look in the mirror and we know we need to make certain changes that will serve as the foundation for our success in years ahead.

We’re focused on streamlining shared services within the FAA to avoid duplication and increase efficiency.  We’re studying our current governance model to ensure we’re prepared to manage issues across the FAA as effectively as possible.  And ultimately, what we do comes down to people, 47,000 FAA employees. That’s why we’re also updating our human resources model to ensure we are attracting and retaining top-notch talent across the board.

As I talk about the FAA’s strongest asset, its people, let me briefly describe the changes that are taking place in our workforce, in terms of generations, to illustrate the degree of change we are undergoing as an agency.

We are going from baby boomers to GenXers and Millennials in air traffic control and other areas.

The FAA hired a substantial number of controllers in the years immediately following the 1981 air traffic controllers strike. Those workers are now coming to the age where they are ready to retire.

Last year, about 18 percent of the air traffic controller workforce was eligible to retire. And we estimate that we’ll need to hire about 1,000 controllers per year for the next 10 years.

Already in the last five years, we’ve hired more than 7,800 controllers.

The percentages for potential turnover are even more pronounced in other areas of the agency.

Let’s talk about aviation safety inspectors. About 47 percent of aviation safety inspectors will be eligible for retirement within the next five years. And about 41 percent of our acquisitions workforce will be eligible as well as 31 percent of the agency’s engineers.

I know many of you have studied engineering, science and math – or you are in school now – so let me tell you – all of those skills are a good fit for those jobs and the needs we have at FAA.

People are our strength, and we need a workforce that has, above all, a core commitment to safety and professionalism. But we also need to make sure we have people with the skills and talents needed for the NextGen air traffic system.

It turns out that what has been an ongoing and profound change in the FAA workforce has a positive side in terms of moving the workforce towards embracing new technology.

We have noticed that the Millennial workers have a very different orientation to technology. They are much more comfortable with all kinds of technology and they are demanding that we use it.

Rather than being nervous about new technology, they are anxious for the next upgrade. They are waiting in line for the iPhone 2 and 3 and 4 and 4S.

These new workers don’t want to be handed a memo at work, they want to receive it automatically on their phones. And we’re listening and changing. Several months ago we released MyFAA Mobile – which makes basic information from the FAA employee Web site completely available to employees.

And just yesterday, we took another step. We released a mobile phone optimized version of which provides much of the most popular information and services that pilots and industry stakeholders and the public at large are looking for. This will make all kinds of public FAA information easily accessible.

To continue our transformation, the FAA is working with many partners to develop and foster a workforce that is schooled in the STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering and math.

This is not a matter of focusing on high schools or junior colleges. To do this, we must reach down into middle school and start fostering the kind of attention on STEM disciplines early on.

There’s both a huge demand and a huge shortage for these kinds of skills in the United States.

I am very proud of our partnership with AIAA in this effort. And I thank you for your support. We rely upon you to help us meet the challenges we face in this area.

To promote STEM education, we are mentoring teachers and working with others to hold boot camps for educators. We encourage teachers to give their lessons with an aeronautical twist. For example, when we teach the laws of Sir Isaac Newton, we ask them to consider using the four forces of flight as an example – lift, weight, thrust and drag.

If they are going to talk about navigation, we ask, why not use a visual flight rules sectional chart to teach the lesson rather than the typical road atlas?

There’s a myth that aeronautics is so difficult that the average teacher can’t handle it, and we want to bust that myth.

Our partner in this effort, NASA, has developed an “app” for that.

We will be assisting with the launch this month of the “app” called Smart Skies, which teaches children basic algebra through a simple air traffic control simulation.

Instead of playing “Angry Birds,” they can play air traffic control.

This is an ongoing effort and we very much appreciate the partnership with AIAA, the Air Force, NASA and others to continue to foster aerospace and astronautic education.  It’s in everyone’s interest to support STEM.

And now I want to turn your attention to another issue that really does deserve everyone’s support, and that is the upcoming reauthorization of the FAA.

The FAA’s current spending authority expires on January 31. We have now had more than 20 extensions. We need an FAA reauthorization bill in order to give the taxpayers and the traveling public the aviation system this country deserves. When Congress returns to work later this month, the House will have only six days in session before this important legislative work needs to be accomplished.

This is something that is of extreme importance for the nation’s economy.  Civil aviation contributes $1.3 trillion to our economy and generates more than 10 million jobs. And NextGen is vital to protecting these contributions. The current system simply cannot accommodate anticipated growth.

In closing, I want to give you an update on a great NextGen project we kicked off in Houston yesterday.

We talk about NextGen as something in the future. But there are many benefits of satellite-based navigation that we are deploying right now.

And in the Houston metro area we are creating NextGen solutions at two major airports and the surrounding airspace. These are part of President Obama’s effort to fast-track needed infrastructure projects to help the economy and spur growth.

The FAA is creating Performance Based Navigation procedures, along with environmentally friendly Optimized Profile Descents, which allow aircraft to make managed descents at reduced engine power settings, thus saving fuel and generating fewer emissions.

These are part of the “invisible,” but very real infrastructure of our aerospace system.

Yesterday we had our version of a groundbreaking on these important infrastructure projects.

These changes are forecast to save millions of dollars in fuel per year and also cut greenhouse gas emissions by thousands of tons.

We expect these “green” procedures to be completed in the next two years.

To do this, we are streamlining our process for environmental studies.  And this streamlining is going to save a lot of time.

Rather than designing and engineering a set of procedures and working until all the “I”s are dotted before sending it over for environmental review – we are doing much of the preliminary environmental work concurrently with the design process.

This way we are able to identify and mitigate environmental issues earlier in the process.

We expect to shave a year off the process this way, and make these NextGen solutions available all the more quickly by doing this kind of workflow change.

That is what is happening in Houston and we hope it will serve as a model for other metro areas around the country as we redesign airspace nationwide.

This is just one example of the improvements we’ll see through NextGen.

As we move forward, our goal is to reach the next level of safety and prepare our workforce for the future. This is a very exciting time in aviation. Together we are creating the template for a new system.  I appreciate your help, your energy and your bright ideas as we embark on the next century of flight.

January 18, 2012 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.