Aviation Subcommittee Heard Testimony Wednesday
A Congressional hearing on Wednesday examined the status of the NextGen, and whether the FAA is implementing recent requirements in this year’s FAA reform law intended to ensure progress of the program.
The Subcommittee on Aviation, chaired by U.S. Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI), heard testimony from federal government and aviation industry witnesses regarding the management and status of NextGen. The hearing focused in part on concerns that the FAA has not yet taken several steps required by the FAA Modernization and Reform Act to improve NextGen accountability, as well as a recent Department of Transportation Inspector General (DOT IG) report highlighting concerns over delays in NextGen implementation.
"While we are on track to meet these long-term goals, it is important to stress that NextGen is happening now. Across the country, we are creating satellite-based procedures that will transform the NAS," said acting FAA administrator Michael Huerta (pictured) in his prepared testimony. "Satellite navigation is essential to deliver benefits to users right away. The new flight tracks will relieve bottlenecks, improve safety and efficiency, and foster the flow of commerce.
"NextGen is also providing the general aviation community access to airports that have previously been inaccessible in low visibility conditions," Huerta continued. "Sixty percent of general aviation aircraft that fly under instrument meteorological conditions are equipped to take advantage of satellite-based navigation into airports that have no ground navigation capability. This has the added benefit of reducing congestion around larger airports that have previously been the only available choice in bad weather.
"While we’ve made significant progress in accelerating the benefits of new technology, we recognize that, as with any large-scale infrastructure program, we need to position ourselves to address the challenges that will inevitably arise," Huerta (pictured) said. "The FAA’s Foundation for Success initiative, which we implemented last year, is helping the agency use our resources as efficiently and effectively as possible, while improving agency accountability."
In his testimony before the subcommittee, NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen said consensus among all aviation segments is needed in order to succeed. “NextGen modernization holds the promise of a safer, more efficient, more accessible, and more cost-effective national transportation system,” Bolen told members of the Aviation Subcommittee, thanking lawmakers for their continued commitment to improving the nation’s aviation system.
Bolen was invited to appear before the subcommittee to represent RTCA, an organization charged with providing consensus-based recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for proceeding on NextGen. Bolen is a former RTCA chair, and today serves as its vice chair. “RTCA should continue to be the forum for receiving FAA tasks, achieving industry consensus, and providing the FAA with consensus-based recommendations regarding NextGen.”
Bolen explained that while the general aviation community, including NBAA’s 9,000 Member Companies, is beginning “to see clear benefits from the transition to a satellite-based system with the establishment of performance based navigation,” some concerns need to be addressed. “NextGen raises significant cost realities for system users,” Bolen said, which means that program implementation should proceed with “a clear cost-benefit case that firmly establishes system requirements, incentivizes early adoption, and provides accountability through the establishment of a comprehensive timeline and budget.”
Bolen told lawmakers that “the entire cost of equipping for NextGen must be borne by the aircraft owner or operator and cannot be passed along to passengers. Because the costs associated with equipping for NextGen are significant, operators need to be able to plan ahead for necessary expenditures.”
In fact, knowing with certainty when new equipment requirements are to go into effect, and when NextGen improvements will be implemented, are important considerations for all aviation segments, he said.
“Currently, budgetary uncertainties and the lack of a single comprehensive timeline for achieving important implementation milestones leave users uncertain about what equipment will be needed, ultimately slowing adoption,” Bolen told committee members. "The FAA has committed to bringing stakeholders together on the development of a future navigation plan, and components of that plan must include a ‘transition strategy’ rather than a light switch approach,” he continued. "In addition, federal funding “to maintain this legacy infrastructure must be established in order to ensure the continued safe operation of the national airspace system.”
In a final note of caution to lawmakers, Bolen said that given these needs, the risks to the nation’s air transportation system posed by sequestration – the anticipated, across-the-board funding reduction for all federal agencies, as part of legislation passed last year – are serious. “Concerns over the prospect of sequestration have created an added level of uncertainty for system users,” Bolen said. “Potential cuts in FAA funding overall, and NextGen funding in particular, would have a severe impact on the NextGen implementation process.”