"RTCA Symposium, Working Together to Realize NextGen"
Michael Huerta, Washington, D.C.
June 5, 2012

RTCA Symposium


Good morning. Thank you, Margaret (Jenny), for that introduction. I’m glad to be here for this year’s symposium.

RTCA is a group dedicated to advancing the science of aviation, and science tells us that we can understand nature by looking at how things relate to one another. These relationships are really important. A lone atom is nothing in and of itself, but it gains significance when it relates to other atoms. For example, carbon atoms sometimes form charcoal and sometimes – when they relate in a different way – they create diamonds. But it all depends on how they come together.

The same theme applies to our airspace system. Government action alone won’t bring about the benefits of NextGen. Nor will NextGen come about from industry action alone. Instead, NextGen’s success will be a function of how effectively government and industry and all the stakeholders in aviation can relate with one another. Our goal is to work together in a way that delivers a next generation air transportation system with solid benefits for the traveling public and for the aviation community as a whole.

So today I’d like to talk about many of the areas where the FAA and the RTCA-sponsored NextGen Advisory Committee, or NAC, have worked together to accelerate the benefits of NextGen, and what we need to do in the years ahead.

The NAC has provided us with expert input in many areas, one being how to address the problem of congested airspace in busy metropolitan areas. We’ve turned those recommendations into specific action by launching our Metroplex initiative. It’s a collaborative effort with industry to bring benefits to the public as soon as we possibly can.

As part of this effort, you all know what we’re doing. We’re creating new, more direct routes across the country that will relieve bottlenecks and congestion. But these routes will also improve safety and efficiency, and foster the flow of commerce. We are making progress in a lot of different areas – Houston, Atlanta, Charlotte, California, north Texas and right here in metropolitan Washington, D.C. And many more regions are on the drawing board.

In these metro areas alone, we expect to see significant benefits. Satellite-based navigation is expected to cut a total of seven million nautical miles from flight plans around these cities each year. These shorter routes, together with gradual descents that reduce engine power, are projected to save at least 22 million gallons of fuel. For these cities, that’s a total reduction in carbon emissions of 220,000 metric tons – the equivalent of taking more than 43,000 cars off our nation’s streets.

We want to see these benefits of PBN each and every day. So to take full advantage of the precision satellite-based routes, we need to make changes to our air traffic control handbook. With the Greener Skies initiative in Seattle, we are making the safety case that will enable us to modify this order, which would clear the way for daily use of these flight tracks across the country.

Under Greener Skies, we’re trying to show that a curved RNP approach to one runway is so precise and predictable, that when it is flown next to another aircraft that is approaching a parallel runway, it merits the same separation standard as two straight-in parallel approaches.

We’ve been working with Alaska Airlines, the Port of Seattle and Boeing Company to create new NextGen approaches – a dozen of them – for airlines flying into SeaTac. These flight tracks are shorter, more fuel efficient and more environmentally friendly.

Our airline partners will start testing some of these routes this month. During these trials, we’ll monitor air traffic control procedures and processes and we’ll validate traffic flow management solutions. The goal is to publish these procedures for use by all qualified operators early next year.

The importance of Greener Skies is not only that we are making more efficient flight paths into SeaTac, and this is very important in its own right, but we are developing a template for how to implement these kinds of airspace improvements in cities across the country.

In addition to Metroplexes, the NAC has also provided us with significant input on Data Communications. As you know, DataComm will improve productivity and efficiency, while enhancing safety. In the long term, it will enable greater use of Trajectory Based Operations, so we can realize even greater benefits.

The FAA is moving forward with DataComm and this summer we expect to award a contract for the integration services, the air/ground network, and the management of an equipage incentive for both air carriers and “on-demand” jets.

In 2013, we will begin trials to test the departure clearances for aircraft in text form, and the goal will be to verify and validate air and ground concepts of operations, requirements, training, and human factors.

We’re looking at three test sites to include Memphis, with FedEx being the lead airline; Newark, where we’ll work with United Airlines; and Atlanta, where we’ll team up with Delta.

NextGen metrics is a third area where we’ve worked together. Earlier this spring, we launched the NextGen Performance Snapshots that you can see on our website. This web tool offers a look at post-implementation performance at specific NextGen locations, and provides descriptions of some major operational successes where they occur at the 21 metroplexes and Core 30 airports. The metrics cover the four key areas of safety, capacity, efficiency and the environment, and later this year, we’ll add predictability and access to that list.

But while we’ve started the difficult process of determining what to measure, we still need reliable and complete performance data that will help us to determine and measure NextGen’s impact.

A fourth area of collaboration has been on the topic of equipage incentives. Based on our latest authorization, we have the authority to initiate an incentive program for both commercial and general aviation aircraft to equip with NextGen capabilities. As part of our due diligence in establishing this program, we’re consulting with other government agencies that have similar incentive programs, and we had a public meeting last week that was very widely attended with interested stakeholders about what the program should look like. We appreciate the information that the audience shared. We certainly saw that there was a great deal of interest and we expect to receive more feedback in the coming months.

But let me emphasize that equipage is only one part of the process. Equipage means you’re on the field. But to be in the game, and to be able to execute, you need to have capabilities. This means controllers, flight crews and dispatchers all have to be trained. Equipment has to be certified and the flight crew has to be willing to execute the procedures in question.

Going forward, we look forward to your continued input as we define our operational incentives. We know that at the end of the day, our airspace for a long time is going to be a mixed equipage environment and some operators may receive a degree of disadvantage in order to make use of NextGen technologies and procedures for the system as a whole.

But as we start to realize benefits on a local level, we can then draw out broader policies and procedures that can be modified over time to work for everyone. Earlier this year, we asked for the aviation community’s technical feedback on 10 varying options for operational incentives which would be implemented over the next two years. As always, the FAA appreciates the honest feedback on these proposals, as it helps us to determine what the next steps are.

Of course, NextGen’s benefits are linked to the integration of programs like DataComm, ADS-B and many others. We know delays in one program can delay the ultimate NextGen benefits we’re trying to realize for the system as a whole.

We’ve put in place formal metrics to track and evaluate NextGen milestones to ensure we have effective oversight, and we established a Program Management Organization to strengthen the coordination among NextGen initiatives, ushering them from the drawing board to live operation. And our NextGen team will ensure that at the enterprise level, we are fully integrated, engaged and ready to deliver 21st century benefits to the flying public.

Time and again, whether it was about metroplexes, Data Comm, NextGen metrics, equipage incentives, and many other areas, we’ve taken input from RTCA, and as a result, we’ve taken action.

But as I said earlier, government can’t do it alone. We need operators to equip and train their crews so they can join the game and execute. The advantages are many. NextGen remains the most critical investment to keep our aviation system safe, sound, and competitive in the global market. How we work together and how we come together — just like those carbon atoms that created a gem – will determine the future of our air traffic system as a whole.

Thank you, and I look forward to a great symposium.

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