Thursday, April 7, 2011

NextGen Now & Just Ahead

Welcome to Wired!

In March 2011 the FAA updated its NextGen Implementation Plan. Filling 100 pages, it gives the status of the agency’s transition to the 21st century international airspace system, noting what it has accomplished and what’s next on the agenda.

ADS-B MapDeployment of ADS-B ground infrastructure is on time and budget. Already in operation at numerous locations, it has been integrated in all four ATC automation platforms, setting the stage for its integration and staff training at ATC facilities nationwide. As required by the 2010 final rule, by 2020 aircraft must have ADS-B out to operate in most controlled airspace.

This fall the ADS-B In Aviation Rulemaking Committee should submit its final recommendations on the technology that displays information in the cockpit. These recommendations will ensure compatibility with ADS-B Out avionics.

Taking traffic and fuel prices into consideration, the FAA estimates that by 2018 NextGen will reduce ground and flight delays by roughly 35 percent. The FAA estimates that this will save operators, travelers, and the FAA $23 billion, and 1.4 billion gallons of fuel during this period. 

Demonstrations and trials of NextGen capabilities have proven successful and their test sites, usually hub airports. At the international gateways of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Miami OPDs (optimized profile descents), which reduce step-downs, and ITAs (initial tailored arrivals), an OPD variation usually employed by international flights, are transitioning from demonstrations to operational use.

An ITA is a pre-negotiated arrival path through the airspace of multiple ATC facilities that limits vectoring and altitude step-downs. Pilots request an ITA while in cruise and, if available, the controller transmits clearance data, which includes a descent profile with speed and altitude parameters, to the aircraft. This requires the aircraft to be equipped with FANS (future air navigation system) avionics, which includes the necessary data link. Once received, the pilots load the ITA into the FMS before descent. 

RNP MapIn 2010 the FAA exceeded its PBN  (performance based navigation) goal, publishing 51 high-altitude and 90 arrival-and-departure routes. In 2011, the FAA is focusing on streamlining arrivals and departures at clustered metroplex airports in North Texas. By 2016 this effort will “deconflict” arrivals and departures at 21 such areas. Next up are Atlanta, Houston, Southern California, Northern California, and Charlotte. This should be a heads-up to operators who fly there. Equipping aircraft now will pay an early return on the investment.

The FAA also published 59 RNP-AR (required navigation performance-authorization required) approach procedures. More are in the works at airports where they will provide the greatest benefit. It also published another 500 WAAS LPV approaches, bringing the nationwide total to more than 2,300.

After ADS-B and PBN, data communications is the next essential component. Replacing many ATC voice communications, data comm plays a central role in every phase of flight from block to block. Data comm is coming online and initial tower capabilities are expected by 2015. Efforts are underway to integrate other NAS systems into the SWIM (system wide information management) network. 

NextGen’s primary challenge is akin to rebuilding an aircraft in flight. Each component must be implemented in such a way that it does not adversely affect safety or the operation of legacy equipment. NextGen and operators must make progress together, and the FAA is studying financial and operational incentives to encourage operator participation.

One of them, the NextGen Equipage Fund, came to life with the 2011 FAA reauthorization act. With federal seed money, ITT Corp. and Nexa Capital Partners, an investment banking firm, has created a $1.5 billion loan-guarantee fund to help airlines equip their fleets for NextGen operations. Since 2007 ITT has deployed more than 300 of the 800 NextGen ground stations it is building and managing for the FAA.

The NextGen Equipage Fund says its competitive financing rates and loan guarantees will enable “the retrofit of up to 75 percent of the U.S. commercial air transport fleet.” In addition, payments would be deferred until the specific NextGen services come online, enabling airlines to upgrade without a large cash outlay or additional debt.

It seems clear that the implementation and operational use of NextGen is accelerating. For operators who like to take things one step at a time, now might be the time to add data comm to your  fleet upgrade list, right after ADS-B and performance based navigation system. If you have questions, give ASIG a call.

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