A Review of the RTCA Mid-Term Implementation Task Force Report
Chairman Costello, Congressman Petri, and Members of the Subcommittee:
Thank you for inviting us here today to review the RTCA’s NextGen Mid-Term Implementation Task Force Final Report. As you know, on January 16, 2009, we asked the RTCA to establish a government-industry Task Force to forge community-wide consensus on the recommended Task Force operational improvements to be implemented in the near-term during the transition between now and 2018. We asked the Task Force to focus on maximizing benefits and facilitating the development of the business case for industry investment. We are grateful to the Task Force for all of the hard work that the members have put into this report and the corresponding data and analysis
The Task Force did not attempt to re-write the NextGen Implementation Plan and assumed that the baseline programs and technologies would continue to be developed by the FAA on target. The Task Force did look for opportunities to accelerate the transition where existing technologies could provide a “bridge” to NextGen programs that are still in development. Over 300 people from nearly every segment of the aviation community participated in over 150 meetings to work toward a consensus set of recommendations presented in this report. The Task Force also distinguished itself from other similarly chartered groups by limiting its set of recommendations, preferring to give greater detail to specific ways the recommendations might be implemented. They also explicitly involved talented and seasoned financial decision-makers from the operator community, such as airline chief financial officers. Finally, they committed to transparency and supported their decisions with solid data.
Prioritization and Continued Collaboration
The FAA strongly agrees with two principles that the Task Force has emphasized throughout their report: (a) the need to prioritize initiatives that can have a near-term effect on delays and efficiencies; and b) the need for continued cooperation and involvement of the industry in the execution and evolution of the plans. With the first of these in mind, we are currently examining all of these recommendations with an eye towards understanding how we might organize and implement them in light of the agency’s various priorities, the most important of which is to implement any new measure safely.
More precisely, we are scrutinizing the Task Force’s recommendations through the lens of our experience with the Operational Evolution Partnership (OEP), the agency’s original plan for implementing NextGen. As the Members of this Committee are aware, the OEP provided the process through which FAA ensured successful implementation. The most senior executives in the agency were held personally accountable for meeting OEP commitments.
The OEP process has been key to the FAA’s recent successes. On November 20, 2008, the FAA achieved a never before attained milestone – we commissioned three runways on the same day. These new runways at Chicago O’Hare, Seattle-Tacoma, and Washington Dulles added much needed facilities to the nation’s airport and aviation system on time and under budget. And, in January 2009, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) took the FAA’s modernization program off of its High Risk List for the first time since 1995. The GAO cited the FAA’s commitment to attack and fix some root causes of the air traffic control modernization problems, including cost overruns, schedule delays and performance shortfalls. Neither one of these would have been possible without the structure of the OEP and commitment of FAA executives to the OEP.
Since 2008, the OEP plan has evolved into the NextGen Implementation Plan, which details our plans for NextGen through 2018. The management process has grown into the NextGen Management Board and, under that, the NextGen Review Board, the governance structure that we put in place to assure successful deployment and implementation. The NextGen Management Board is chaired by the Deputy Administrator and composed of FAA Associate Administrators, the Air Traffic Organization (ATO) Chief Operating Officer, ATO Senior Vice Presidents, the Director of the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO), representatives of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), and other key stakeholders. This is the agency’s senior governing body for NextGen, and consists of the highest level agency executives. Under the Management Board, resides the NextGen Review Board, composed of FAA staff and executives, which looks at more technical issues including approving and prioritizing NextGen activities and making funding recommendations.
The FAA has been reviewing the report, and the NextGen Management Board is scheduled to meet on Monday, October 26, to discuss the Task Force’s recommendations within the greater context of the FAA’s overall work. In doing so, we note that much of the technology and procedures that underlie the specific recommendations of the Task Force exist and are in use already. However, they are being used in limited areas, often in their demonstration phases. The Task Force recommends deploying these technologies and procedures more widely throughout the national airspace system (NAS) to achieve immediate, short-term relief from congestion and inefficiencies. But before we can do that, we need to make sure that these technologies and procedures can be safely deployed elsewhere and whether deploying them throughout the system is a wise strategic decision. The NextGen Management process is the way that the FAA is able to examine these recommendations within this context.
Our work on area navigation (RNAV) and required navigation performance (RNP) air traffic control routes is a perfect example of this. While RNAV/RNP has been highly beneficial in many areas, the FAA has previously approached it on an ad hoc basis, responding to requests from the external aviation community. Now that we have greater experience with the RNAV/RNP program, we are better able to use the knowledge we have gained over the past few years. We can step back and take a deeper, strategic look at how RNAV/RNP can benefit the national airspace system as a whole. With this strategic eye, we will be able to make better decisions as to where RNAV/RNP procedures can be implemented to maximize their effectiveness in reducing congestion and delays.
To address the second principle of the Task Force, that of the need for continued cooperation and involvement of the industry in the execution and evolution of the NextGen plans, we intend to conduct follow up work with our industry stakeholders through the Air Traffic Management Advisory Committee (ATMAC) and its workgroups. The ATMAC is a Federal Advisory Committee of the RTCA. Its purpose is to provide the FAA with consensus-based, recommended investment priorities that will improve the safety, capacity and/or efficiency of the NAS. One of the great advantages of pursuing the follow on work through the ATMAC is that it will give us the continued input from industry and other stakeholders that is so essential to successful NextGen implementation. The ATMAC’s work will complement the work of the NextGen Management Board and Review Board and bring all of the relevant perspectives together to help us make the right strategic decisions.
Confirming Our Path
Using this combination of the NextGen Management Board, the NextGen Review Board, and the ATMAC, the FAA will be addressing each of the Task Force’s recommendations specifically and in detail in the coming months. In the meantime, we are pleased that the Task Force reconfirms the value of the FAA’s current work. Using the NextGen Management Board and Review Board process described above, we have already begun work in a few areas that address the Task Force’s recommendations, some of which are described below.
For example, the Task Force recommended that the FAA take steps to improve aircraft surface traffic management at airports. The intent would be to reduce tarmac delays and enhance safety, efficiency, and situational awareness by defining and standardizing requirements, and implementing the capture and dissemination of surface operations data to controllers, ramp towers, and user operations centers.
The FAA is in the process of addressing aircraft surface management as the Task Force recommends. We recently accelerated the ASDE-X schedule and now project that all systems will be deployed by the fall of 2010 – one year earlier than originally anticipated. ASDE-X enables air traffic controllers to detect potential runway conflicts by providing detailed coverage of movement on runways and taxiways. By collecting data from a variety of sources, ASDE-X is able to track aircraft ground support equipment, maintenance vehicles, and aircraft on the airport movement area and obtain identification information from aircraft transponders. As we accelerate this work, we are coordinating with the users to determine where and how to best use the technology to enhance the safety and efficiency of surface movements on an airport, as the Task Force recommends. The ATMAC will be invaluable to this work as we move forward.
The Task Force also recommended that we focus on relieving congestion and tarmac delays at major metropolitan area airports. They propose accomplishing this by reducing inefficiencies at satellite airports and surrounding airspace by instituting teams that focus on quality of implementation at each location and eliminating airspace conflicts with adjacent airports. The Task Force recommends using core capabilities of RNAV, with RNP where needed; optimized vertical profiles using vertical navigation; and use of 3 nautical mile and terminal separation rules in more airspace.
The FAA has been working towards addressing the complexities of the airspace of these metroplexes. For instance, in Atlanta, we added additional RNAV departure lanes in 2006, which increased the capacity to and from the en route airspace. The lanes also give users the benefit of repeatable and predictable paths. The benefits are measurable. Since the addition of the RNAV departure lanes, we have seen a 24% to 43% reduction in departure delays and an estimated $105 million cumulative savings in operator benefits (due to improved profiles and reduced distances). Moreover, these procedures have improved situational awareness; there has been an 18% to 34% reduction in routine pilot/controller voice communications as well as reduced errors in voice communications.
Access to the NAS
The Task Force recommends improving access to, and services provided at, non-OEP airports and to low altitude, non-radar airspace. They recommend doing this by implementing more precision-based approaches and departures, along with the expansion of surveillance services to areas not currently under radar surveillance.
Along those lines, the FAA will expand the development of increased precision approaches that are intended to benefit business and general aviation users. Known as Localizer Performance with Vertical Guidance (LPV) approach procedures, these approaches enable more aircraft to more safely fly low-visibility approaches to more airports throughout the NAS. As long as the aircraft is equipped with Wide Area Augmentation System, or WAAS, equipment (a technology that increases the accuracy and integrity of Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) for aircraft navigation) or equipment of equivalent performance, the operator can take advantage of these LPV approaches.
The Task Force also examined incentives to investments in NextGen capabilities. They briefly explored the following types of incentives: 1) providing financial incentives either in the form of low-interest loans, or direct subsidies of equipage; 2) providing a timely, unambiguous set of processes (regulations, avionics certifications, operational procedures and approvals, engineering support, etc.) to assure the realization and timelines by NAS users of a sufficient level of operational benefits that justify investments; and 3) establishing a NAS where system users who have aircraft with higher aircraft performance/capability levels get higher levels of service. This is referred to in the FAA’s Next Generation Implementation Plan as the “Best-Equipped, Best-Served” concept.
While we need to examine various incentive options under the auspices of the NextGen management process and with the input of the ATMAC, we are particularly pleased with the “buy-in” that the Task Force has achieved from aviation operators. For each recommendation, the Task Force was able to gain a commitment from at least one operator to invest in its implementation. This sets the stage for the necessary equipage saturation by the operators to take advantage of all the NextGen technologies. This helps give the airlines and other operators the framework to make choices that make sense for them under a “Best-Equipped, Best-Served” concept.
One point that we should make with regard to “Best-Equipped, Best-Served” is that this is an extension of how the FAA operates today. When an aircraft is equipped with the right technology, the operator can take advantage of different air traffic control procedures, depending on the level of that aircraft’s equipment. For example, if an aircraft has the right type of equipment necessary to fly at certain high altitudes, the operator may obtain access to those higher altitudes. These higher altitudes provide an environment for optimum jet performance. With the NextGen “Best-Equipped, Best-Served” concept extending this paradigm to recognize different levels of equipage, operators will be able to have better access to the NAS by virtue of having the ability to fly in more sophisticated and efficient ways through the system.
The Task Force also advocates identifying the operational approval and certification issues that may impede adoption and acceleration of NextGen capabilities and implementing timely solutions to these challenges.
To address these concerns, we note that the FAA is already in the process of standing up “NextGen Branches” in our Flight Standards Regional Offices across the country. The purpose of these NextGen Branches is to facilitate the operational approvals and implementation of these initiatives, by bringing specialty expertise in these areas to assist local flight standards district offices.
The FAA is also working on streamlining the certification approval process. For example, we have begun to develop improvements to how we use data developed by an avionics manufacturer when those avionics are being installed. We would do this by using the data that the manufacturer has already submitted to obtain a Technical Standard Order authorization. This will reduce the amount of work required for the installation in the long run.
Post Task Force Follow-Up
Finally, the Task Force recommends that to maintain the momentum created over the past seven months and to facilitate holding the community consensus intact through the implementation of the recommendations, the FAA should establish institutional mechanisms to facilitate continued transparency and collaboration.
As noted above, the FAA intends to conduct our follow up through the ATMAC, in order to ensure continued industry collaboration. Many of the same people who serve on the ATMAC were part of the Task Force, and we look forward to their continued contributions to implementation.
As we move forward with examining and implementing the Task Force’s recommendations, we welcome Congress’ continued interest in and oversight of our work. Both Secretary LaHood and Administrator Babbitt have committed to moving NextGen forward to heighten safety and maximize efficiency throughout our national airspace system, and we intend to see that commitment through.
Chairman Costello, Congressman Petri, Members of the Subcommittee, this concludes our prepared remarks. We look forward to answering any questions that you may have.