For Immediate Release

October 8, 2014
Contact: Paul Takemoto/Tammy Jones
Phone: (202) 267-3883

An undertaking as complex as the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) deserves thorough, periodic evaluation to consider what the aviation community has accomplished to date, where things stand, and where the effort is headed.  At the FAA’s request, MITRE/CAASD has conducted such an assessment over the last several months and has delivered its recommendations to the FAA. 

MITRE’s assessment showed that modernization of the national airspace system is well underway and the FAA is on target, meeting the goals it set to complete the foundational elements of NextGen and is beginning to deliver enhanced operational capabilities and services to the airlines and traveling public.

The report arrives at a time when the FAA is responding to immediate needs—most notably the events at the Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center—and simultaneously planning its strategic future.  As the agency manages the present and builds toward the future, MITRE’s observations present potential actions, some of which are already in motion, and many of which will be reaffirmed, informed, or refined by this assessment.

MITRE’s assessment was intended to take stock of where NextGen is today and to help refine plans and expectations for the future.  With a particular focus on the pre- and post-2020 time periods, MITRE looked broadly at the NextGen effort.  They based their assessment on the FAA’s plans for the NextGen mid-term time period and considered progress to date, as well as documented plans for the future.  They considered technological, operational, and economic aspects of the effort as they relate to the ultimate success of NextGen.  And from a strategic perspective, MITRE provides reminders of the community’s ambitions at various stages of NextGen.  These are all useful touch points as we consider our next steps.

For the FAA, MITRE’s assessment arrives at a critical time.  While change in the aviation arena is the norm, key planning parameters have changed significantly since NextGen commenced.  Most notably, the FAA created its mid-term NextGen plans when federal budgets were less constrained than they are today.  MITRE’s observations will inform our ongoing deliberations about tradeoffs and prioritization.

As MITRE suggests, though, and the FAA agrees, NextGen success in the long term hinges not only on funding. The assessment and recommendations point to areas where improved training, national policies, or clearer governance could improve the realization of NextGen benefits.  MITRE provides examples of areas where technology has been or is in the process of deployment, but some of the complementary activities have not been achieved.  In particular, full transition of new capabilities into the operation—for example, decision support tools for traffic flow management—have not been optimized.   The FAA commits to take a fresh look at those areas and consider appropriate actions. 

On a related note, the assessment is a reminder of the community-dependent nature of NextGen.  The full benefits of this multi-faceted program depend on complementary investments by system users, including equipage, training, and a willingness to transition to more efficient procedures. While the FAA has put great effort into stakeholder engagement since NextGen commenced, MITRE suggests that it is time to revisit the focus of that engagement as it relates to realization of operational benefits.   The FAA agrees and will take stock of the examples that MITRE raises. 

All told, the MITRE assessment is a valuable reminder of the course we set out on, an objective look at where we stand, and most importantly, a timely and educated view of areas where we might consider adjustments to improve the outcome.  Following are some ways that our near-term activities are aligned with, or informed by, the MITRE assessment:

  • MITRE cites user-adoption as a fundamental challenge facing NextGen and encourages the FAA to work more closely with the aviation community to increase equipage.  The FAA agrees and has issued a Call to Action to the community and will hold a day-long summit on October 28.  The summit aims to find ways that the FAA and industry partners can work together to address potential challenges to meeting the ADS-B equipage mandate.

  • MITRE discusses the need for better NAS-wide integration of NextGen concepts--including policies, procedures, and training—if we are to achieve NextGen’s benefits.  This is an ongoing activity, the importance of which is without question.  And our immediate activity to undertake a 30-day review stemming from the Chicago ARTCC incident will provide tangible, up-to-date information on ways to better integrate our operation.  In particular, the review will look at business continuity planning and opportunities to accelerate procedural and technological integration across the NAS.

  • A theme throughout the MITRE assessment is the ongoing need to consider trade-offs, whether driven by budget constraints, concept maturity, or external factors.  The FAA strongly agrees and is actively analyzing, advocating, and reshaping NextGen to respond to those pressures.  As the agency moves forward with budget and reauthorization proposals, those proposals will recognize realities but point to opportunities that should be considered if we are to attain the NextGen vision.

  • MITRE cites the need to evolve the services that the FAA provides.  On one hand, this involves accommodating new users, such as commercial space operations and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).   On the other hand, it requires divesting ourselves of services that are no longer needed as we realize the NextGen vision.  The FAA agrees, and the Administrator has built one of his four strategic initiatives around these themes.  In line with MITRE’s suggestions, the “NAS Initiative” is driving toward clearer plans for the accommodation of new entrants, as well as sunset dates for certain types of legacy infrastructure.

  • MITRE’s specific recommendations—those that relate to individual NAS programs or investments—are informed by MITRE’s long-term work with the FAA and ongoing involvement with concept development and maturation.  The FAA believes that we are largely in line with MITRE’s recommendations but that they offer important considerations as we refine future services, consider how to prioritize investments, and seek to maximize NextGen’s benefits.

    - The FAA’s plans are currently in line with approximately 22 of the recommendations.  These include priorities that were developed with the NextGen Advisory Committee, such as initiating additional airspace redesign activities in metroplex areas, as well as the enabling of new entrants’ operations (e.g., UAS and commercial space operations).  MITRE’s recommendations largely re-affirm our intended direction in these areas, but they offer important considerations in our ongoing refinement of capabilities.   

    - Seven recommendations include items that require investment or implementation details.  These include certain decision support tools, the scope of which may have to be reconsidered as the budget situation is better understood.  Several of these recommendations could be addressed with additional funding, but concept maturation is also a factor.  The FAA understands the concerns raised by MITRE and plans to work with the community to find ways to address them. 

    - The FAA agrees with the intent of the remaining five recommendations, but they will require external
    stakeholder support.  These recommendations focus on ways to reduce costs by rightsizing NAS services.  One example is to reduce legacy navigation infrastructure as we transition to GPS-based services.  NextGen seeks to accomplish this, but it will take the support of the community to adopt new technologies and procedures.   

> MITRE Report–NextGen Independent Assessment and Recommendations