The NextGen Institute, a U.S. government-private sector partnership, held its annual meeting in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 21, where government officials and industry representatives gathered to highlight accomplishments in the development of NextGen and to discuss the road ahead.
“NextGen will affect the global aviation system for the better,” Deputy Secretary of Transportation John Porcari told the group of transportation industry stakeholders. “NextGen is the United States’ chance to continue to lead the world in aviation.”
Porcari highlighted “the real benefits NextGen is offering today,” including ADS-B developments in the Gulf of Mexico. “Through the collaborative efforts of the FAA and private industry, the largest helicopter operator in the Gulf of Mexico is now fully ADS-B equipped… offering additional traffic information the lower altitudes [helicopters] operate.”
The program then turned to House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Thomas Petri (R-Wis.), who cited the “Emerald City” potential of NextGen. “As a business proposition, it’s essentially a no-brainer,” he said. “The risk is a timing delay. But it’s the human side of it, not the technology side of it.”
Petri also cited the need for collaboration between industry and the government. “We need to try and avoid the top-down temptation of the government dictating what the industry needs,” he said.
Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, discussed the intent of the legislative branch during 2004 FAA reauthorization, which initiated some of the first requirements for collaborative efforts between the government and industry on NextGen. “It was always our intent to have NextGen projects to be prioritized. However, the program has had its progress, and challenges.”
The challenges cited by Costello include the pending confirmation of FAA Acting Administrator Michael Huerta, connecting the lack of permanent leadership at the agency to delays of NextGen implementation. Costello said he is “hoping for confirmation after November 6.” Costello also cited the current budget environment and stakeholder participation as some of NextGen’s major challenges. “The budget problem can only be fixed by Congress,” he said. “The key is convincing Congress and stakeholders there are benefits for them… Congress, the FAA, and stakeholders must continue to work together.”
The meeting then turned to a series of panels. The first panel, comprised of officials from the general aviation, airline, government, and unmanned aircraft sectors, discussed the issues the NextGen program faces. The panel agreed that there had been tremendous progress on NextGen, but there was still a long way to go.
The conversation then turned to Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and covered a wide range of topics including privacy issues, sense and avoid technology, and challenges to NAS integration. Government officials cited “excellent” levels of collaboration both inside and outside of the government, given the mutual interest all agencies have in unmanned aircraft.
The meeting concluded with a panel discussion on the steps forward for NextGen, which consisted of former FAA administrators Marion Blakey and Randy Babbitt. Blakey used the 2020 ADS-B out deadline as an example of close industry collaboration, allowing stakeholders to establish a timeline for equipage. She also cited the on time and on budget deployment of ADS-B ground stations as dramatic progress in NextGen deployment.
Babbitt turned to the Gulf of Mexico ADS-B network as an example of progress. “There are 3,800 manned rigs in the Gulf of Mexico making thousands of flights each day… and with the flip of a switch, 250,000 miles of previously invisible airspace had [air traffic control] coverage of ADS-B equipped aircraft.”
The conversation also covered the January 2 sequestration process, which Blakey described as a “storm on the horizon,” saying that it would be a “blow at a very critical point” in the NextGen implementation program and “delay, diminish, and jack up the price” of equipage. Babbitt called sequestration a series of “foolish and dangerous cuts.”
Acting FAA administrator Michael Huerta wrapped up the meeting stating the “collaborative process [involved in NextGen design and implementation] is about the future of aviation… and public-private partnership success.” And that the agency is focused on “the benefits now,” which include reduced time for airspace improvements which are creating a “better way of doing business.”