Tue, Aug 14, 2012
Expected Completion Currently 15 Months Behind Schedule
A report released by the DOT Inspector General indicates that the FAA's "Metroplex" initiative, which is intended to get NextGen up and running in major metropolitan areas, is currently about 15 months behind schedule.
In the report, the IG acknowledges that the FAA quickly added the recommendations that followed a 2009 Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA) study into its budgets and strategic plans, and set up a process for ongoing industry collaboration. But "(w)hile FAA has focused on one of the most critical recommendations—metroplex airspace—it missed milestones at the first two sites due to unresolved staffing issues and lack of a project plan. The expected completion date for all metroplex sites is now 15 months later than FAA’s earlier, more aggressive plans. Further, industry representatives are concerned that the effort may not deliver all planned/desired benefits since FAA has focused only on near-term airspace and procedure improvements rather than maximizing new technologies and advanced procedures as recommended by the task force. For example, of the 136 metroplex solutions proposed for the first 7 metroplex sites, only 3 are for the more advanced procedures that allow
aircraft to fly more precise routes and curved approaches to airports.
"FAA has not yet resolved many of the barriers that will impede the implementation of the task force recommendations. These barriers include working across diverse agency lines of businesses, updating policies, streamlining the process for implementing new flight procedures, applying environmental regulations, upgrading controller automation tools, and training controllers on new advanced procedures."
The IG found that airline representatives are concerned that the FAA has not yet clearly defined expected benefits for proposed metroplex activities and that maximum benefits—shorter flight paths and fuel savings—may not be achievable. This is important to the airlines who are key stakeholders in the metroplex initiative. The IG also reported that firm estimates of benefits of NextGen have not yet been established, and that the agency does not have a clear process that ensures all projects are properly reviewed and prioritized.
The DOT IG issued a series of recommendations to the FAA to address the delays, which met with mixed reviews from the agency. The IG said that "(t)o provide a solid foundation for NextGen, FAA must resolve the safety, policy, training, and organizational issues addressed by the task force. Further, both Government and industry must synchronize their planning and implementation efforts to effectively roll out NextGen initiatives and realize tangible benefits. Continued uncertainty about these efforts could undermine industry’s commitment to investing in NextGen technology—a critical element for successful implementation."
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