The Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen, is the transformation of the radar-based air traffic control system of today to a satellite-based system of the future. This transformation is essential in order to safely accommodate the number of people who fly in the United States.
New, satellite-based technologies will significantly improve safety, capacity and efficiency on runways and in the nation’s skies while providing environmentally friendly procedures and technologies that reduce fuel burn, carbon emissions and noise.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is leveraging existing technologies and expanding their capabilities to bring the benefits of NextGen to the flying public today. In order to make the NextGen concept more easily understood, this fact sheet explains NextGen through the different phases of flight, describing some of the technologies being used as the foundation for NextGen. A list at the end shows a few of the many aviation community partners joining forces with the FAA to help transform the airspace system. These partners include airlines, manufacturers, state, local and foreign governments, universities and associations.
The FAA’s safety management systems approach, which is more proactive and data-driven, will help the agency achieve the next level of safety for the flying public. Ongoing investments in airport infrastructure – runways, terminals and technology – will ensure that maximum benefits will be gained from transforming the air traffic system and renovating aircraft fleets. The investment in advanced engines, airframes and sustainable fuels, along with new procedures, will help to reduce aviation’s environmental footprint.
The safe transportation of any air traveler begins on the ground. The FAA has different systems that allow air traffic controllers to see the location of aircraft and vehicles on airport runways and taxiways and keep them safely separated. One of these systems, called Airport Surface Detection Equipment – Model X (ASDE-X), gets its information from a variety of surface surveillance sources, including radar, automatically transmitting the most accurate targets to monitors in the tower. The biggest improvement over systems that derive information solely by radar, which might show false targets during bad weather, will be the introduction of Global Positioning System (GPS) locations of both aircraft and surface vehicles. ASDE-X is fully operational at 27 airports.
A software tool called Surface Management uses ASDE-X to extend airport surface monitoring beyond runways and taxiways to the ramp areas. This extended coverage will improve common situational awareness, making pilots, controllers and airport operators better aware of the precise location of every aircraft, vehicle and obstacle on the airport surface.
Aircraft flying in the U.S. today are tracked, for the most part, by radar. A new system called Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) uses GPS satellite signals to more accurately identify the aircraft’s location throughout the flight. In the near future, controllers will be able to safely reduce the separation standards between aircraft, which will provide increased capacity in the nation’s skies. The FAA first rolled out ADS-B in Alaska, a site chosen because the rugged terrain severely limits radar coverage. Aircraft were equipped with ADS-B avionics, including a cockpit display. This display provided the pilot with the aircraft’s location, the location of other aircraft, and graphical and textual weather information on a moving map.
ADS-B now covers the Gulf of Mexico, where the FAA, in partnership with the Helicopter Association International, installed a network of ADS-B ground stations on oil and natural gas platforms and the surrounding shoreline. This brings air traffic surveillance services, more precise aircraft locations and weather data to both low-altitude helicopters servicing the platforms and high-altitude commercial flights operating beyond radar coverage in the Gulf.
The FAA also rolled out ADS-B in Louisville and Philadelphia, with Juneau coming on-line shortly. Louisville was chosen as a key site in part because United Parcel Service (UPS) voluntarily equipped 107 of its aircraft with ADS-B avionics in order to save time, fuel and carbon emissions on flights to and from its Louisville hub. The system is being used by controllers in the tower at Louisville International Airport and at the Louisville Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facility.
Controllers in the Philadelphia area also have the capability to use ADS-B to track and separate aircraft. ADS-B coverage in Philadelphia extends 60 nautical miles out from Philadelphia International Airport and approximately 10,000 feet up. It also covers the surface area and the approach corridors to the runways. Philadelphia was selected in part because UPS has equipped some of its aircraft with ADS-B and a large amount of their operations are conducted there.
Ground stations have been installed in South Florida, which means that pilots flying in aircraft equipped with ADS-B avionics in that region now receive free traffic and weather information on their cockpit displays.
ADS-B coverage will be nationwide in 2013.
A new software tool called Traffic Management Advisor (TMA) helps controllers sequence aircraft through high altitude airspace and into the airspace around major airports by calculating their precise routes as well as the minimum safe distances between aircraft. TMA is deployed at all 20 of the nation’s en route centers in the continental United States and 33 of the top 35 airports.
Over the Ocean
On flights over the Atlantic, the FAA and its partners (Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research program, or SESAR; European air navigation service providers, aircraft manufacturers including Boeing and Airbus, and commercial airlines) are testing Oceanic Trajectory Based Operations (TBOs), which allow aircraft to operate the most efficient routes and altitudes. Seven test flights in May 2009 saved 330 gallons of fuel and 6,730 pounds of carbon dioxide. Tests in 2010 will also include Air France.
The FAA has developed a toolbox of procedures to safely bring aircraft to their destination airport as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Beginning about 200 miles out, Tailored Arrivals allow controllers to look over your aircraft’s flight path and tailor it to avoid certain conditions that might otherwise slow it down, such as bad weather and restricted airspace. More than 250 Tailored Arrivals have been flown into San Francisco by 747 and 777 aircraft, saving an estimated 27,350 gallons of fuel.
As you approach your destination airport, an Optimized Profile Descent will keep your aircraft at its most efficient altitude for as long as possible before beginning a smooth, continuous approach to the airport. The type of descent – rather than the stepped-down approach required by current procedures – saves time and money while reducing carbon emissions and noise. Delta reduced carbon emissions by an estimated 200 to 1,250 pounds and saved 10 to 60 gallons of fuel per arrival into Atlanta during recent flights.
Optimized Profile Descents maximize satellite-based approaches called Area Navigation (RNAV) and Required Navigation Performance (RNP), which provide precise approaches to runways. The FAA has published 348 RNAV and 205 RNP procedures. Both RNAV and RNP, like the other tools in the toolbox, allow aircraft to safely land as quickly and efficiently as possible.
NextGen Advanced Technologies
Controllers and pilots communicate today largely by talking back and forth over radio. Data Communications (Data Comm) will improve safety and efficiency by replacing voice communications, which are labor intensive and susceptible to error. NextGen communications between controllers and flight crews will be handled by Data Comm transmissions, relieving radio frequency for more complex maneuvers and allowing complicated instructions to be provided electronically.
All of the FAA systems in NextGen will need to speak to one another – as well as to the systems used by other parts of the aviation community, including the airlines, the military and the Department of Homeland Security. System Wide Information Management (SWIM) is an information platform that will allow this to take place. SWIM is an essential part of NextGen, since the safe and efficient use of airspace depends on how well the different parts of the airspace system communicate with one another.
Weather accounts for 70 percent of all delays. NextGen Network Enabled Weather (NNEW) will improve aircraft operations over the nation’s skies by reducing the impact of weather. NNEW will provide better weather forecasts, particularly for severe conditions such as thunder storms and icing. This will allow FAA air traffic managers and those who use the system to better manage traffic flow in bad weather.
Other Places Where NextGen is Being Rolled Out
In addition to the technologies and procedures mentioned above, a NextGen test bed in Florida allows the agency to evaluate integrated technologies and procedures for nationwide NextGen deployment. The test bed features RNAV routes between Florida airports (including Miami, Orlando and Daytona) and New York area airports (Teterboro, JFK, LaGuardia and Newark). The precision allowed by RNAV routes improves the efficiency of operations along the crowded East Coast corridor, saving time and money for airlines serving those routes and reducing delays for passengers. Optimized Profile Descents and Tailored Arrivals are being used in Miami. Both operational maneuvers allow aircraft to descend in a more direct alignment with runways, increasing predictability while reducing emissions and fuel burn.
The FAA is also using JFK and Memphis to test new Surface Management programs in order to facilitate better aircraft flow on the ground. This will enhance runway safety on runways, taxiways and ramp areas and reduce delays, while also lowering emissions and fuel use.
The FAA has also entered into agreements with international partners across the Atlantic and Pacific to accelerate the deployment of NextGen technologies and procedures to improve aviation safety, efficiency and capacity while reducing the environmental footprint during all phases of flight. The Atlantic agreement, reached between the FAA and the European Union, is called the Atlantic Interoperability Initiative to Reduce Emissions (AIRE). In April, United flew two demonstration flights between Chicago and Frankfurt that used NextGen procedures that allowed the aircraft to fly more efficient routes, saving time and fuel burn. The Pacific agreement, first reached with Australia and New Zealand and more recently joined by Japan and Singapore, is called the Asia and Pacific Initiative to Reduce Emissions (ASPIRE). Five demonstration flights have been conducted under ASPIRE. A Singapore Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Singapore Changi Airport via Tokyo Narita International Airport in January used a no-delay departure, a new procedure called User Preferred Routing that allowed the aircraft to take advantage of optimum winds, and an Optimized Profile Descent into Changi that brought the aircraft from cruising altitude to the ground with greater efficiency. A Japan Airlines flight from Honolulu to Osaka last October used procedures such as just-in-time fueling, preferred routes over the ocean, optimized speed and altitude and a tailored-arrival approach to the destination airport. An Air New Zealand 777 flying from Auckland to San Francisco last September saved 7,700 pounds of fuel and 27,700 pounds of carbon dioxide. A Qantas A380 flying from Los Angeles to Melbourne last October saved 19,600 pounds of fuel and 61,700 pounds of carbon dioxide. And a United 747 flying from Sydney to San Francisco last November saved 10,500 pounds of fuel and 33,100 pounds of carbon dioxide.
NextGen is a collaborative effort between the FAA and partners from the airlines, manufacturers, universities, associations, federal agencies and state, local and foreign governments. The FAA has entered into numerous agreements to accelerate the deployment of NextGen. Some of the more recent agreements include:
- A partnership with the Helicopter Association International, platform/helicopter companies, oil platform owners and helicopter operators allowed the FAA to introduce satellite surveillance coverage to the Gulf of Mexico. The absence of radar coverage over water severely restricts capacity due to the separation procedures needed to maintain safety. Under the agreement, valued at $100 million, the platform owners provided space for the FAA to install ground stations. Helicopter operators provide transportation to and from the platforms and have equipped some of their fleets with ADS-B avionics.
- An agreement with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has enabled the establishment of the Florida NextGen test bed where the development and demonstration of SWIM and other NextGen technologies are conducted.
- An Aviation Research and Technology Park (ARTP) is being built near the FAA’s Technical Center in Atlantic City, N.J., to provide a central location for partners in academia, industry, and other state and federal government agencies to work on NextGen under a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the agency. The park, which is being built with no direct cost to the FAA, has amassed $3.5 million in grant funding. The formal arrangement with the FAA will take the form of a lease with a MOA.