Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Waiting for NextGen: Possible Progress

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When it comes to developing and implementing the Next Generation Air Transportation System, there is no chicken or egg quandary when listing the impediments it must overcome. Technical challenges and industry acceptance and integration follow the political process that allocates the funds that make the project possible.

Congress has punted the long-term FAA reauthorization bill nearly two dozen times, stalling NextGen progress. But that could change by Christmas, reported the Daytona Beach News-Journal. John Mica, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure predicted that a long-term FAA funding bill would be under the tree, ready for the president’s signature.

NextGen Testbed OpeningMica and his committee met at the Daytona Beach of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in mid-November to open the renovated NextGen Test Bed. One of three such facilities (the others are the FAA Tech Center in New Jersey and a NASA facility near DFW), it develops and tests NextGen technology. Equipped with ADS-B in 2003, ERAU’s training fleet of 64 aircraft log roughly 65,000 hours a year, enabling real-world end-to-end evaluations of NextGen systems.

Doubling the facility’s space to 10,000 square feet, the renovation prepares the site for its third phase, working toward, among other things, a 300-percent increase in traffic through the use of continuous ascent and descent procedures. Phase II was dedicated to integrating airport surface monitoring and arrivals and departures into SWIM, the system-wide information management system. Phase I, begun in 2008, focused on 4D weather and trajectory display systems for air traffic controllers.

Svc MapDespite the impediment of unpredictable funding, the NextGen team has been making progress with its available resources. Its website presents a map that lists the progress made at airports nationwide. And earlier this year, the FAA and European Union signed an agreement for joint research that ensures NextGen with the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) compatibility and interoperability of avionics, communication protocols and procedures, and operational methods. In other words, seamless air traffic service to aircraft flying between the US and Europe.

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