Wednesday, February 23, 2011

NextGen + SESAR = Air Traffic Harmony

Welcome to Wired!

In deciding when and how to equip a fleet of transport category aircraft to operate efficiently in 21st century airspace, it’s tempting to put on blinders that extend no further than your  airline’s operational area. But airspace transcends borders, so any transition plan should include international factors.

In March, Amsterdam will host two important convocations, ATC Global 2011, March 8-10,2011, and the second annual Global ATM Operations Conference, held March 10-11 by CANSO, the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation. Perusing the rosters of worldwide participants, exhibitors, and workshop topics, it is clear that we fly the same airplanes, use the same equipment, and face the same operational changes that are transforming  air traffic management.

Rapidly reaching the end of its service life, the 2oth century technology of ground-based navigation and radar surveillance does not have the resolution needed to safely accommodate the world’s growing demand for capacity. Two programs are leading the transition to the 21st century’s collaborative satellite-based system. Ultimately, aircraft will report their 4D trajectory (3D + time) to the ATM network, increasing safety, efficiency, and capacity while mitigating economic and environmental factors.

In the United States, the FAA is implementing the Next Generation Air Transportation System, NextGen, and across the Atlantic Eurocontrol is doing the same with the Single European Sky ATM (Air Traffic Management) Research, SESAR. In addition, SESAR is melding the air traffic services (ATS) of its 39 European Union members into a unified operation that will deliver seamless service.

“Future operations, based on the SESAR three core principles of time, trajectory and performance, will transition aviation into a new frontier where efficiency, cost-effectiveness, safety and capacity are all enhanced,” wrote Eurocontrol Director General David McMillan in the Winter 2010 Skyway. “However, this vision can only be achieved through improved and interoperable CNS systems arrived at through common standards and specifications applied throughout Europe and eventually worldwide. This is a huge task involving all players within the aviation community and beyond.”

Under any name, 21st century ATM must provide seamless operation worldwide. To ensure technical, equipment, and operational harmony, the FAA and Eurocontrol are working together and under applicable umbrellas of the ICAO, the International Civil Aviation  Organization, and CANSO, the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation.

Sister initiatives, NextGen and SESAR are multi-phase efforts built on required navigational performance (RNP) and ADS-B, what separates them most is terminology (Europe’s “WAAS” is called EGNOS, European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service) and timelines. 

SESAR has three phases: Definition, which developed the master plan, ran from 2005 to 2008. Development, 2008 to 2016, produces the new technology defined by the master plan. And Deployment, 2014 to 2020, is the large scale production and implementation of the new ATM infrastructure.

The European ATM Master Plan has three Implementation Packages. IP1 covers systems ready for deployment now with ATM initial operational capability set for 2012. IP2 covers mid-term deployment of ATM services between 2013 to 2019. And IP3 addresses long-term programs that start deploying in 2020.

SESAR LOGOSESAR requires ATC datalink communications for all new aircraft delivered after January 1, 2011, and all aircraft operating in Europe will need the system by 2015. A Eurocontrol NPRM will require all aircraft to be equipped with ADS-B Out by 2015, with an exemption for those that weigh less than 12,500 pounds and cruise at slower than 250 knots. Described as a stepping stone to ADS-B In, the NPRM does not require WAAS/EGNOS and specifies less stringent GPS performance.

NextGen is phasing in ADS-B now, with full ground-station coverage planned for 2013. The FAA is encouraging airlines to take advantage of the system now (See NextGen Update: Time & Money) , it does not mandate the equipment until 2020.

SESAR and NextGen are also taking different routes to RNAV. Europe has been flying to RNAV-5 and RNAV-3 (mile separation) standards since 1998. The US is just now starting to phase it in (See  Now is the Time to Invest in NextGen RNP), the FAA is way ahead of Europe in establishing precision GPS/LPV  approaches at airports nationwide.

Regardless the route taken, operators and air traffic services will ultimately fly in harmonious 21st century airspace. Just as NextGen/SESAR gives operators options on the best trajectory to their destinations, ASIG can provide the guidance and services that will give international operators these capabilities.

Until next time, stay 5x5, mission ready, and Wired!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

NextGen Update: Time & Money

Welcome to Wired!

faa_logo The Next Generation Air Transportation System is no longer a science project. Commercial aircraft must be equipped for NextGen by 2020, and that deadline is fast approaching. Proactive airlines, such as Southwest and JetBlue, have  started upgrading their fleets. Others, it seems, are trapped in paralyzing decision-making debates of conflicting points. 

Among them is the DOT Inspector General’s report of  inadequate detail and timelines for the implementation of some components and software problems in the computer that processes incoming GPS-based aircraft positions and distributes them throughout the system.

Like any change in the status quo, NextGen is suffering growing pains. The technology involved is relative to the time. The transition from airway bonfires and beacons to radio ranges and radar suffered similar problems. The ground-based radar system NextGen is replacing was not born perfect, it matured with time. NextGen will do the same. 

Another point is the ATC labor force. The FAA needs to train controllers for NextGen, and t0 offset retirements, it must hire and train roughly 11,000 new controllers by 2019. With this timeframe, there’s no need for alarm. This challenge doesn’t come close to the pinnacle of ATC workforce anxiety, the need to hire and train—right now—the replacements for the 11,345 controllers Ronald Reagan fired on August 5, 1981.

Decision-making debaters will rightly note that these problems might cause delays, thus giving airlines more time to discuss their NextGen strategy. But these delaying tactics do not change the unavoidable  result: airlines  must equip their fleets for operation in NextGen airspace.

As most managers know, when solving problems, there is a symbiotic relationship between time and money. The FAA will pay bills necessary to keep NextGen on time, a point sure to be  made in the Administration’s FY2012 proposed budget, said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

LaHood told Airline Transport World that “airlines have to make a ‘hard call’ on whether to make a significant upfront investment in equipping aircraft with NextGen-capable technology.” In reality, it is not a question of “whether” to equip. NextGen isn’t going away, so the question is really “when” to bring a fleet up to NextGen standards.

Which brings us back to money. In the Washington Post, the FAA estimated the full NextGen upgrade cost between $162,000 and $670,000, depending on the airplane’s age. What that might be in a few years, when deadline demand surpasses the supply of  equipment and man hours needed to install it is anyone’s guess.

For those deciding to upgrade now, ATW reported that the House Aviation Subcommittee hoped to include “loan guarantees” and other assistance in the FY 2012 budget. But don’t count on it. Congress  is still trying to pass the FY 2011 budget. The Wall Street Journal reported that the aviation appropriation before the Senate does not include any NextGen assistance for airlines, despite administration requests for it.  Facing an even tighter fiscal situation in 2012—and reports of airlines with billions in cash reserves—assistance may be a dream politically unfulfilled. 

One airline did get some help. JetBlue just scored $4.2 million from the FAA for ADS-B equipment in 35 of its Airbus A320s. Part of a multi-year, multi-phase trial, they will provide real data on the fuel and time-saving benefits of this NextGen component. The airline will cover all training and maintenance costs, and the  trial’s key results are due in 2012.

In giving airline decision makers real numbers to crunch, the FAA hopes more of them will step up to NextGen now. Phase 2 will equip JetBlue with ADS-B (in), which displays traffic and other info in the cockpit, allowing tighter en route and terminal separation, thereby increasing capacity.

JetBlue engineers started work on ADS-B two years ago, and  “independent of the FAA investment,” said CEO Dave Barger, “this is just good business.” In the Washington Post he said, “I’ll be delighted to make the rest of the investment” to equip the rest of its fleet of 116 A320s and 44 Embraer E-190s.

With this investment, JetBlue will join Southwest Airlines as the vanguards of NextGen technology. And to them go the competitive (and economic) advantages of getting onboard early. And that, too, must become part of the debate that determines  when to step up to NextGen. If you want to be among the vanguard, ASIG can help make it happen.

Until next time, say 5x5, mission ready, and Wired!