NextGen—It’s Airport-Centric

I had the opportunity to attend the House Aviation Subcommittee’s hearing regarding the Next Generation Air Transportation System—or NextGen—on Oct. 28.  The hearing dealt specifically with the findings of the RTCA NextGen Task Force, which concluded in September. I am pleased that airports were featured prominently during the hearing.

As background, the Task Force was formed in February at the request of the FAA to (1) develop an industry consensus regarding NextGen operational capabilities that can be implemented in the near- and mid-term futures (i.e., by 2018), (2) prioritize these capabilities, (3) identify the actions that industry stakeholders, the FAA, and others need to take to implement them and where these actions need to be taken, and (4) identify steps that can be taken to expedite these actions.  The Task Force—which was composed of a broad cross-section of aviation stakeholders—enumerated steps that can be taken by the aviation industry to expedite the implementation of NextGen.  It also took a detailed look at the business case behind proposed NextGen capabilities and prioritized capabilities that promise high benefits at reasonable cost.  ACI-NA served as the primary representative of the airport community in Task Force efforts; the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey also participated directly.

As those of you that attended our NextGen session at ACI-NA’s 18th Annual Conference know, ACI-NA firmly believes that NextGen begins and ends at airports.  This message was echoed in the testimony presented by RTCA President Margaret Jenny and FAA Air Traffic Organization CEO Hank Krakowski at the hearing.  Both Jenny and Krakowski noted that the Task Force’s recommendations were “airport-centric,” with specific focus on improving the efficiency of surface, runway, and terminal airspace operations.

Stating that NextGen “doesn’t have an on-switch,” Krakowski also acknowledged that the implementation of NextGen will be an evolutionary process that will be achieved incrementally as newer-generation aircraft equipped with NextGen technologies enter the fleet.

Witness Dr. Gerald Dillingham of the Government Accountability Office cited a few critical challenges associated with NextGen.  From my perspective, the most important among these for airports is the challenge that local environmental issues—primarily noise issues associated with altering flight procedures and redesigning airspace—pose to the full realization of NextGen benefits.

Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Costello (D-IL) and Ranking Member Tom Petri (R-WI) both complimented FAA for engaging a broad range of industry stakeholders in the Task Force, and encouraged the FAA to incorporate the recommendations into its ongoing work efforts.  They also encouraged FAA to continue its close coordination with the industry—including airports—as it moves forward. Krakowski committed to do so.

Two of the most memorable statements of the hearing came from House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN).  In the first, Chairman Oberstar stated that the development of NextGen needs to be accountable to those that are paying for it—namely U.S. air passengers—which are funding the system through their ticket taxes.  In the second, the Chairman emphatically encouraged passage of FAA reauthorization noting that without it—and the funding increases it includes—NextGen benefits won’t be realized.
-Chris Oswald, VP, Safety & Technical Operations

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