NextGen, New Airspace Users in Colorado

Chief Operating Officer, Air Traffic Organization Teri L Bristol (June 1, 2014 - present)

Thank you, Louis. I’m glad to be here. First off, I want to congratulate Denver, and the State of Colorado, for winning the Super Bowl this past year. I’m envious. Here in D.C., our team does not win Super Bowls, at least not in the last two decades. 

When you say “Omaha!,” you’re talking about touchdowns. When we say “Omaha,” we might be talking about steak or life insurance.      

Like I said, I’m envious. 

Of course, your success is not limited to touchdowns and Super Bowls.  In many ways, Colorado is helping us modernize the nation’s airspace system, making it more efficient and greener, while ensuring that all safety needs are met.  As many of you know, the FAA’s plan to modernize the National Airspace System is called NextGen.

NextGen is very important to our stakeholders and to Colorado.  It is critical to move airplanes in and out of major airports like Denver, and smaller airports in Ski Country and other areas as efficiently as possible.

NextGen is the driver, but in order to complete this modernization, the FAA will need to continue to work with our stakeholders, including industry, labor, government and local communities. 

Colorado is a strong leader in these collaborative efforts.  For instance, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is a member of the FAA’s Management Advisory Committee.  And Denver Airport director Kim Day is a former member of the FAA’s NextGen Advisory Committee. 

Of course, it’s a two-way street.  Washington D.C. has sent key players to Denver too……cornerback Champ Bailey comes to mind. 

But seriously, we’ve worked with Colorado in many ways to deliver NextGen benefits there, and we look forward to continuing that work.      

Today, I’d like to talk about some of our progress with NextGen.  I’d also like to tell you about our efforts to integrate drones and commercial space operations into the airspace system as well. 

So let me start with NextGen.  Over the past few years, we’ve been making real progress with NextGen.

In 2014, we completed the infrastructure for ADS-B, which is the core technology that moves us from a radar-based to a satellite-based system.  With ADS-B “Out,” as we call it, air traffic controllers can pinpoint exactly where an aircraft is at any given time. And with ADS-B “In,” pilots can look on a screen in the cockpit and see exactly where their plane is in relation to other aircraft nearby.

ADS-B is integrated at all of our en route air traffic control centers, so the system is ready and many users are already seeing benefits.

But the full benefits can only be realized if all aircraft are equipped with ADS-B Out transmitters, which broadcast aircraft position.

The FAA has set a January 1, 2020 deadline for aircraft operating within certain controlled airspace to equip for
ADS-B Out.

We’re working closely with the entire industry to ensure the January 2020 deadline is met – with a special focus on the general aviation community.

The FAA recently announced a new rebate program that’s designed to help general aviation aircraft owners meet the deadline and make installing ADS-B equipment more affordable.  We will be offering eligible aircraft owners a $500 rebate to help offset the cost of purchasing ADS-B Out equipment, or an integrated system that also includes ADS-B In.

We’ll be issuing 20,000 rebates on a first-come, first-serve basis for one year starting this fall, or until all 20,000 rebates are claimed – whichever comes first. 

In addition to ADS-B, we’ve completed automation upgrades in our en route centers where we control high altitude traffic.  And this year, we’re working on automation upgrades in our terminal facilities.

And while these programs will serve as NextGen’s long-term foundation, we’re also working on four near-term priorities:

  • Increasing the availability and use of Performance Based (or satellite- based) Navigation,
  • improving airport surface operations,
  • making multiple runway operations more efficient, and
  • implementing Data Communications.

I’ll give you some examples.  Last year, at Denver International, we implemented a more efficient satellite-based procedure called Established on Required Navigation Performance.  We call it EoR, and it enables pilots to fly shorter distances when simultaneously turning to land on parallel runways.  This results in less fuel burn and emissions by the aircraft.  After implementing EoR, Denver Airport was able to increase their use of these more fuel efficient procedures by 28%.

We’re looking to expand the use of these kinds of satellite-based procedures, both in Colorado and around the nation.  In fact, Denver is part of the FAA’s Metroplex initiative – an effort to target NextGen capabilities in metro areas to relieve air traffic congestion.  Our Denver Metroplex team is nearing the end of the Design Phase, where we’re working with industry to conduct simulator testing of new procedures. 

During the design phase, we also intend to reach out to the Denver community.  We want to ensure that the public is involved and that air traffic procedure designs don’t conflict with known community concerns.  We take public input very seriously and we strongly encourage people, agencies and officials to learn about, and weigh in on, our airspace procedure proposals. 

When the Design Phase is complete, we’ll move into the Evaluation Phase where we’ll start a formal environmental assessment, and this typically takes 12 months to complete.

We recently deployed another important NextGen innovation at Denver Airport on May 3rd.  It’s called Data Communications.  

Data Comm, as we call it, enables controllers and pilots to communicate by sending and receiving digital data instructions, in addition to voice communications.  With this capability, controllers can issue a departure clearance to several aircraft at once, and issue revised clearances as might be necessary during bad weather.  We’ll be able to accomplish faster taxi out times and reduced delays, while reducing controller and pilot workload, congestion on the airwaves, and the likelihood of communication errors that can occur from voice exchange. 

Data Comm’s departure clearance service is now operational at 27 air traffic control towers around the country, and we’re 20 months ahead of schedule.  We’ll continue to deploy Data Comm at about 30 additional control towers around the country.  In 2019, we’ll start to deploy Data Comm in our en route air traffic control centers. 

Let me give you a third example of how we’re delivering benefits in Colorado.  In 2012, the FAA worked with the Colorado Department of Transportation to install a technology called Wide Area Multilateration, or WAM.  WAM improves access to Ski Country airports like Eagle, Telluride, Montrose and several others in bad weather. 

Since radars could not track the aircraft once they descended below the tops of the surrounding mountains, air traffic controllers had to keep planes farther apart in the air than usual in order to provide the appropriate safety margins.  They had to conduct “one in, one out” operations.  This resulted in a lot more delays and cancellations due to bad weather, resulting in a lot of unhappy passengers.  After putting these WAM systems in place, we’ve been able to reduce arrival delays during poor visibility by as much as 12 minutes per flight.

EoR, Data Communications and WAM are all winning plays.  And these are just a few of the innovations we have in mind. 

Once all planned programs are in place, the FAA expects NextGen to deliver $134 billion in direct airline, industry and passenger benefits through 2030.  This includes more than $50 billion in benefits to the airlines for reductions in future flight delays, which translates into reduced airline crew, maintenance and fuel costs. 

And while NextGen is helping us provide benefits for traditional aviation, the FAA is also committed to integrating new users – like unmanned aircraft and commercial space operations—into the airspace system.

We expect there to be as many as 7 million drones sold by 2020.  And we already have about 500,000 registered drone users in the United States, more than the number of registered aircraft.   

In the coming weeks, the FAA will publish a rule that will allow routine, civil operations for commercial purpose of small unmanned aircraft.  Currently, we are authorizing these types of operations on a case-by-case basis.  We have approved more than 6,000 exemptions for purposes like movie filming; inspections of pipelines, power lines, bridges and flare stacks; and conducting precision agriculture operations. 

We recently developed a UAS strategy to guide our integration efforts and better align our work with other lines of business in the agency.  And this summer, the FAA will establish a new Drone Advisory Committee to advise us on integration issues.  We believe this group will serve the same type of purpose as the NextGen Advisory Committee, in terms of helping us prioritize our efforts.  

Like unmanned aircraft, the commercial space industry is making a lot of progress.  Earlier this spring, we saw Space X make history by landing the first stage of their Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.  This marks a big step toward achieving reusability of these rockets.

This year, the FAA predicts a total of 25 launches, and we expect this number to climb as the industry matures.  One day, we may even see multiple launches per week as the space tourism industry grows.       

Currently, we accommodate these operations by blocking off airspace.  As they increase, we’ll have to move from accommodation to integration, meaning that we take into account the needs of all airspace users – just as we are doing with unmanned aircraft.

This fall, we expect to complete our Commercial Space Integration Roadmap that will define changes in airspace usage policy, regulation, procedures and automation capabilities, and determine the schedule by which these changes will be made.  

And this summer, the FAA plans to conduct a demonstration of a prototype technology – the Space Data Integrator or SDI—when Space X conducts one of its reentry missions.  The demo will help us determine how much airspace we have to block off in advance to ensure a safe operation, and how we can more efficiently release the blocked airspace so it’s available for other users.

We know that Front Range airport has submitted a license application to conduct commercial space operations.  The FAA wants to enable the growth and success of the commercial space industry.  The FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Office is working with our Airports office and the Air Traffic Organization to balance that goal with the need to ensure that traditional air traffic remains safe and efficient.    

To recap, the FAA is implementing NextGen into the airspace system every day.  And we’re working to bring in drones and commercial space craft. 

Stable funding remains a concern for the FAA.  We have another short-term extension of our authorization that runs until July 15th.  The Senate passed their version of a long-term bill in April but it remains to be seen what will happen. 

In closing, Colorado is not just a leader in the National Football League.  You’re also a leader in aviation – whether it be with Wide Area Multilateration, using more efficient satellite-based navigation procedures, using Data Communications, or with commercial space operations.  I look forward to continuing our work together, and seeing the progress we’ll make in the coming years.    

Thank you.