Special to ANN: Drew Steketee Reports From Washington
Some 300 industry and government players kicked-off a three-day
"NEXTGEN Ahead 2010 Summit" in Washington, May 19th.
Obvious from the start: the call for industry
and users to get behind this massive shift in ATC.
Also obvious: to date, it's been mostly about
airlines and not (yet) about GA.
The elephant in the room: the on-board
equipment required to play and who can or will pay for it.
Successful demonstrations were cited for Satnav and ADS-B to
replace today's radio-nav and radar-based system. Representatives
of Naverus (now part of GE) showed hairy-looking approaches and
departures in river valleys and around terrain in Brisbane,
Australia, and Juneau, Alaska. Others cited new IFR capabilities
for tight turns and hill-jumping step-downs on final (instead of
ILS's long glide). Semi-circular "radius around a fix" turns
allowed flexible traffic sequencing to final from various points on
a busy extended downwind.
FAA and Delta Air Lines speakers covered NEXTGEN's potential for
multiple re-routes around weather and flexibility in multi-airport
"Metroplex" areas. Speakers illustrated NEXTGEN benefits already
here, but Delta added that technology is potentially "outpacing
(ATC) procedures and (design) criteria."
NEXTGEN is more than Satnav, ADS-B and approaches. For instance,
data communications and information sharing are key elements. RTCA
president Margaret Jenny said their Task Force 5 found that
bundling five disparate NEXTGEN capabilities as "Data Comm"
investments made them compelling and cost-effective. But an earlier
workshop covered difficulties merging different data systems and
their security protections. Net-centricity issues worry
Other speakers emphasized that NEXTGEN should be selling
capabilities, not technologies. Former FAA Administrator Marion
Blakey, now Aerospace Industries Association president, summarized
Day One with a frank call. "I think it's time to reach consensus to
accelerate NEXTGEN." Blakey challenged "wait-and-see attitudes" and
doubters who question NEXTGEN benefits, "especially if air traffic
doesn't recover. Are airlines betting that traffic won't come
back?" she asked.
Blakey recited the laundry list of delay-cutting, fuel- and
environment-saving national benefits of NEXTGEN. Then she suggested
the industry stop debating itself and start a national
advertising/PR campaign to sell the public on NEXTGEN. But she
herself admitted that "Some level of future benefits must be taken
on faith" even as she posited that "the system could pay for itself
in three years," if all intangibles were taken into account.
"We must collaborate as an aviation community," she warned.
(Industry and association execs then did just that in a late-day
three-hour executive session.)
Throughout the day, equipage was "a tough topic" as Blakey and
others admitted. A questioner posed the tough one: "After TARP,
recession bail-outs and a burgeoning Federal deficit, is there any
chance Congress would underwrite NEXTGEN cockpit avionics?
Respondents were cautious, but some continued to imagine
incentives, grants and loans to help. Talk of mandates was
Blakey concluded with a call to "clear away the ash cloud of
uncertainty" plaguing NEXTGEN. We'll see. And there's another
issue; the Naverus (GE) rep raised it. "So far, it's all been
mostly airlines. I can't wait to get General Aviation more
Another elephant! (AOPA's representative will be "in the room"
Friday to join the discussion).