NATCA: Collaboration Resulting in NextGen Success, Funding Uncertainty Creates Challenges
Wednesday, June 25, 2014

CONTACT: Doug Church, 301-346-8245

WASHINGTON – National Air Traffic Controllers Association President Paul Rinaldi told the Senate Aviation Subcommittee today that the successful implementation of NextGen modernization, which NATCA fully supports, is underway. He said the progress has been fueled by strong and effective collaboration involving NATCA, the FAA, and other aviation stakeholders. The results, he added, are “much-needed improvements that will increase the safety and efficiency of the National Airspace System (NAS).”

Rinaldi also expressed NATCA’s concern that the progress could be undermined by the lack of stable funding for these important modernization projects. In the past year, mandatory sequestration cuts resulted in furloughs at the FAA that slowed or halted several essential NextGen projects.

“Funding uncertainty has also created a stop-and-go pace that adds cost overruns as air traffic controllers must be retrained each time a project is halted – lost time becomes lost money, and lost opportunity to reap the benefits of these modernizations,” he said.

Rinaldi’s full written testimony for the Subcommittee’s hearing, “NextGen: A Review of Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities for Improving Aviation Safety and Efficiency,” is located HERE.

NextGen modernization will allow the FAA to meet increased capacity demand while improving the safety and efficiency of the NAS, reducing delays, and protecting the environment. NextGen projects are transforming the NAS by using new and existing technologies including satellite navigation, advanced digital communications, and enhanced connectivity between all components of the NAS.

“NATCA is proud to be involved in all aspects of the process as an essential stakeholder,” Rinaldi testified. “NATCA and the FAA both recognize that stakeholder involvement is the key to continued success to NextGen. We applaud the Committee for their efforts to ensure this collaboration through the stakeholder involvement provision in the 2012 FAA Reauthorization Act. In addition to being present on NextGen projects, NATCA is represented as a member of the RTCA, the FAA Management Advisory Council (MAC), and the NextGen Advisory Committee. Our presence, as well as that of other industry leaders, has been an important addition to the discussion on modernization.”

Other highlights of NATCA’s testimony, which provided several examples of how NextGen projects are already benefiting the NAS, include:

-    Houston – Optimization of Airspace & Procedures in the Metroplex (OAPM): OAPM study teams rely on current aircraft navigation capabilities to enhance airport arrival and departure paths, provide diverging departure paths to get aircraft off the ground more quickly, and add more direct, high-altitude Area Navigation (RNAV) navigation routes between metroplexes. These changes reduce fuel consumption, providing economic benefits for airlines as well as benefits for the environment.

-    Gulf of Mexico – Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B): ADS-B, one of the cornerstone components of NextGen, is a form of surveillance that will replace traditional radar as the primary surveillance method in the NAS. ADS-B involves the broadcast of the GPS-derived position report of an aircraft or vehicle. As this technology continues to evolve and aircraft equip with ADS-B Avionics, controllers will see an increase in surveillance coverage not provided by traditional radar sources. At this time, the FAA has completed the physical infrastructure of the ADS-B network. Additionally, they have successfully integrated ADS-B data into existing ATC automation systems, meaning that air traffic controllers can see the new ADS-B information.

-    Colorado – Wide Area Multilateration (WAM): WAM is an independent, cooperative surveillance technology based on the same time difference of arrival principles that are used on an airport surface. Several ground-based receiving stations listen to signals transmitted from an aircraft and then mathematically calculate its position in three dimensions. This data is transmitted to screens viewed by air traffic controllers for separation of aircraft. WAM can interface to terminal or en-route automation systems.

-    Phoenix – Performance Based Navigation (PBN): The development and implementation of PBN will create more defined routing for aircraft, which ultimately increases the number of aircraft that controllers can direct. These new procedures will improve the fuel efficiency for the airlines and create safer and more efficient procedures for air traffic.

-    Memphis – Re-Categorization of Separation Standards (RECAT): Experts in wake turbulence, safety, and risk analysis have determined that decreasing separation between similar type aircraft is as safe, or safer than, current standards and increases efficiency and capacity, meaning that like other NextGen projects, RECAT has the capacity to enhance safety, reduce delays, save fuel, and reduce aviation’s environmental impact.

-    Newark –Data Communications (DataComm): DataComm will reduce frequency congestion by allowing the controller and pilot to communicate directly via digital communication (much like a text message). It will also reduce confusion because the message will be in print form and not copied over the frequency. A majority of these messages will be integrated into the flight deck avionics to help save time and remove issues of incorrect data entry.

-    Atlanta –Equivalent Lateral Spacing Operations (ELSO): ELSO is a procedure that enables the world’s busiest airport to depart aircraft on diverging courses much closer than in the past. ELSO, developed by the Mitre Corporation in 2011, added two departure routes at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) due to an updated separation standard. The introduction of ELSO at ATL enables simultaneous and successive diverging departure operations by creating two departure tracks for each runway end during normal runway operations.