Since 2009, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the aviation community have been collaborating on the successful implementation of NextGen in the National Airspace System (NAS). In 2015, the FAA formalized the process by publishing a joint plan between the FAA and the aviation community. The joint plan focuses on delivering tangible implementation benefits across all NextGen focus areas, and aligns the agency's and aviation community's priorities.
The NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC) NextGen Priorities Joint Implementation Plan CY 2019–2021 (PDF), published in June 2019, contains FAA-industry agreed milestones through 2021 in four focus areas: Multiple Runway Operations, Performance Based Navigation, Surface Operations and Data Sharing, and Data Communications. The Northeast Corridor (NEC), the busy airspace between Washington, D.C., and Boston that includes Philadelphia and New York City, and associated airspace, is also included in the plan as an additional NextGen Priority area.
The FAA and industry agree to continue collaborating through the NAC and update the commitments each year. The consensus of the FAA and stakeholders represented on the NAC is that successful implementation of the commitments will help shape the future of NextGen and contribute to its long-term viability. The commitments in the joint plan are a subset of the FAA's overall plan to modernize the National Airspace System (NAS).
The FAA and industry have identified commitments in the four focus areas and the Northeast Corridor to increase safety, reduce aviation's impact on the environment, enhance controller productivity, and increase predictability, airspace capacity, and efficiency. The FAA and industry will continue to monitor joint progress and be agile and flexible to make necessary adjustments to commitments. The FAA also has a monitoring and oversight process (PDF) detailing FAA's continued engagement with the NAC.
The Joint Analysis Team, a group of FAA and industry experts operating under the NAC, is committed to evaluating the effects of these commitments on the NAS and examining performance impacts and benefits that can be attributed to the implementation of NextGen capabilities. This helps the FAA and industry understand the value of implementations in this plan.
Previous reports, which include 2014–2018 commitments, can be viewed at: NextGen Priorities Joint Implementation Plan, 2014-2017 (PDF), NextGen Priorities October 2015 Joint Implementation Plan Update (PDF), and NextGen Priorities Joint Implementation Plan 2017-2019 (PDF).
Each focus area section includes a graphic listing the capability milestones and dates, accompanied by a brief description of the commitment.
Multiple Runway Operations (MRO)
New technology in the cockpit and due diligence in examining safety standards for closely spaced parallel runway (CSPO) operations have enabled the FAA to advance its procedures and tools to improve runway capacity in all weather conditions. The FAA can now implement a suite of Multiple Runway Operations (MRO) capabilities to increase arrival and departure rates. These are based on new procedures and data-driven changes to wake turbulence separation standards through Consolidated Wake Turbulence (CWT).
The capabilities in MRO have:
- Enabled the use of simultaneous approaches — two or more aircraft arriving side by side — during periods of reduced flight visibility
- Decreased the required separation between aircraft on dependent approaches, including staggered aircraft arrivals on parallel runways
- Optimized wake turbulence separation standards
These capabilities can increase capacity for more flight opportunities, improve reliability and predictability, and reduce delays. The commitments are a subset of the overall series of programs and activities the FAA has planned within MRO.
Performance Based Navigation (PBN)
Performance Based Navigation (PBN) is an advanced, satellite-enabled form of air navigation. The FAA has established a network of thousands of precisely defined PBN routes and procedures to improve air traffic flow efficiency to and from airports throughout all phases of flight.
A PBN-centric National Airspace System (NAS) harmonized with Time Based Management (TBM) will enable Trajectory Based Operations (TBO) in the future. TBO is an air traffic management method for strategically planning, managing and optimizing flights throughout the operation by using TBM, information exchange between air and ground systems and an aircraft's ability to fly precise paths in time and space through PBN. TBO allows air traffic controllers to manage traffic on the basis of knowing when and where an aircraft will arrive at critical points along its flight from departure. Initial Trajectory Based Operations (iTBO) is the first step in implementing TBO and is enabled by a number of PBN, surveillance, communications and automation systems that together create a four-dimensional (4D) trajectory.
The FAA outlined its plans for a PBN-centric NAS in the 2016 PBN NAS Navigation Strategy (PDF) document, which details the agency's PBN objectives from 2016 to 2030 and beyond. Successful pre-implementation and implementation activities identified by the NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC) recommendation have advanced PBN and led to operational approvals that facilitate the use of emerging PBN capabilities. With the goal of bringing the strategy to an operational level of implementation, the NAC identified a new set of commitments for the CY2019–CY2021 timeframe.
Surface Operations and Data Sharing
Noticeable efficiencies can be gained while an aircraft is on the ground and at the gate, and when connecting the surface to en route airspace. The FAA is committed to implementing near-term surface improvements, enabling data sharing with and among stakeholders, as well as completing feasibility assessments of additional capabilities including decision support tools, processes, procedures and policies.
The NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC) developed a follow-on set of commitments for surface and data sharing. Terminal Flight Data Manager (TFDM), identified as one of the new commitments, is a tower-based program that improves surface management and efficiency. TFDM supports new services that automate current manually-intensive operations and replace critical outdated systems in the National Airspace System (NAS). TFDM capabilities are being implemented incrementally in a phased (multiple build) approach throughout the life of the program. The introduction of TFDM into the NAS is a key building block for the FAA's Trajectory Based Operations (TBO) concept.
The remaining commitments involve the Airspace Technology Demonstration 2 (ATD-2) — the Integrated Arrival/Departure/Surface (IADS) field demonstration at Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) — an initiative launched in collaboration with NASA in September of 2017. ATD-2 capabilities will help the FAA increase NAS benefits for TFDM, as well as initial TBO and full TBO. The FAA's goal of establishing TBO in the NAS is to maximize airspace capacity and efficiency with more sophisticated and seamlessly integrated information about the future position of aircraft at a given time, while maintaining safety and minimizing environmental impacts.
Data Communications (Data Comm)
The Data Communications (Data Comm) program provides digital communications services between pilots and air traffic controllers, as well as enhanced air traffic control information to airline operations centers. Data Comm provides a data interface between ground automation and the flight deck for pilot and controller communications. With the push of a button, pilots and controllers can send, accept and insert (if allowed) safety-of-flight air traffic control clearances, instructions, traffic flow management notices, flight crew requests and reports.
Data Comm technology is critical to the success of NextGen, enabling efficiencies in both technology and human factors not possible with the current voice system. Data Comm services have already proven to enhance safety by reducing communication errors for pilots and controllers, increasing pilot and controller productivity by reducing their communication time, and increasing airspace capacity and efficiency while reducing delays, fuel burn and aircraft exhaust emissions.
Northeast Corridor (NEC)
The Northeast Corridor (NEC) is the airspace that spans from Washington, D.C. to Boston and includes Philadelphia and the New York City area. The NEC contains the most congested airports and airspace in the United States and has a significant impact on daily operations in the NAS. The FAA, in collaboration with the NAC, agreed in 2017 to make the NEC a NextGen priority focus area.
Applying TBO capabilities in the NEC is a key part of the FAA's implementation strategy for TBO. The agency is reviewing current deployment waterfalls for TBO capabilities and identifying gaps between the desired end state and what is currently planned.
TBO is expected to result in more efficient use of system capacity by maximizing airspace and airport throughput, improving operational predictability through more accurate gate-to-gate strategic planning, enhancing flight efficiency through integrated operations, and increasing operational flexibility through increased user collaboration regarding trajectories and priorities.
The NEC initiatives are intended to address the highest priority operational needs for the NEC through December 2021.