Monthly Archives: November 2008

Fly NextGen overview page updated, new links added

The Fly NextGen overview page has been updated to include some key NextGen roadmaps and operational concepts. Here some links that seem most essential to us; if you disagree (and/or would like to see some additional ones added), drop us a line.

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Nationwide ADS-B ground rollout formally announced

It was not exactly unexpected, but ADS-B has been deemed officially fit for prime time. Acting FAA Administrator Bobby Sturgell announced a nationwide rollout of ground stations yesterday in a speech before the Aero Club in Washington. (Press release here.)

In the short term, the biggest beneficiary of this “in-service decision” will be system integrator ITT, which had the main contract for installation at a series of 11 test sites around the Miami ARTCC. (More details about the business angle in this article from flightglobal.)

In his remarks, Sturgell lamented the state of public perceptions around NextGen, and especially around the FAA’s ability to manage complex projects in a timely fashion:

We’re dealing with claims like “NextGen won’t be here until 2025” or “NextGen’s just a slogan.” I think that talk comes to a halt today.  [..]  In just a little more than a year following the ADS-B contract award, we’re in the position to give it the green light. On budget. On schedule. This decision clears the way for the installation of ground stations, and to transmit broadcasts for operational use across the nation. We’ll start on both coasts and portions of the Midwest. 310 ground stations are scheduled to be operational by 2010.

At the same time, we’re setting up key sites for ADS-B testing for surveillance. We’re going to use the Gulf of Mexico, Philadelphia, Juneau and Louisville. And once the test is completed, we follow closely at additional key sites, like New York.

By 2013, we’ll have 794 ground stations to complete the deployment, covering everywhere that you find radar today. And also in places like the Gulf and the mountains of Alaska, where there is no radar coverage.

I said a moment ago that the critics contend that NextGen is a slogan. This is the order to accept the system — to commission it. Vinny Capezzuto’s group has tested ADS-B ten ways from Sunday, and it works. The top safety expert, Nick Sabatini, says it’s a go. The COO is a former airline pilot, and he’s giving it thumbs up. Consider ADS-B operational on November 24, 2008, at 10:15 a.m.

The four sites that Sturgell referenced (Gulf of Mexico, Philadelpha, Juneau, Louisville) are interesting in that the technology being tested there represents the next frontier for ADS-B. These so-called “critical services” are intended to provided GPS-based aircraft position data to controllers, in order to help achieve correct separation. Theoretically, this will eventually allow the FAA to eliminate secondary radar in some locations.

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Want to see what JPDO is up to? New website lets you dig deep

A very interesting venture by the JPDO to give the public access to a series of key documents and road maps, using a highly dynamic (if slightly confusing) website.

There’s so much to explore, one hardly knows where to begin, but one thing that caught our eye was a list of “19 objectives” that a new airspace system should fulfill:

• Retain role as world leader in aviation
• Reduce costs of aviation
• Enable services tailored to traveler and shipper needs
• Encourage performance-based, harmonized global standards for U.S. products and services
• Maintain aviation’s record as safest mode of transportation
• Improve level of safety of U.S. air transportation system
• Increase level of safety of worldwide air transportation system
• Provide for common defense while minimizing civilian constraints
• Coordinate a national response to threats
• Ensure global access to civilian airspace
• Satisfy future growth in demand and operational diversity
• Reduce transit time and increase predictability
• Minimize impact of weather and other disruptions
• Reduce noise, emissions, and fuel consumption
• Balance aviation’s environmental impacts with other societal objectives
• Mitigate new and varied threats
• Ensure security efficiently serves demand
• Tailor strategies to threats, balancing costs and privacy issues
• Ensure traveler and shipper confidence in system security

We’re not sure we’ve seen the goals of NextGen summarized quite in this way before. Seems like it could be a compelling counterweight to the sometimes simplistic focus on ADS-B.

(Thanks to our friends at the JPDO for the heads-up about the site.!)


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EXCLUSIVE: House aviation subcommittee chair Jerry Costello on reauthorization, controller morale, and his hopes for a ‘different attitude’ at the FAA

When Congress returns for a full session next year, all eyes will be watching Rep. Jerry Costello (D-IL), who heads the aviation subcommittee of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. Costello and his colleagues will be taking point on the all-important FAA reauthorization bill, without which NextGen will remain nothing but a pipe dream.

Last week, Congressman Costello sat down with Fly NextGen to talk about his frustrations with times past and his hopes for times to come.

To read the interview from the beginning, start here.

Selected quotes:

On his skepticism: “The FAA does not have the best track record in their attempts to improve the air traffic control system. A lot of money has been spent — not only under this administration — and we have very little to show for it.” (Link)

On capacity: “I think it would be a mistake to believe that NextGen and the infrastructure improvements are not needed because of the temporary reduction in the number of flights.” (Link)

On user fees: [The Bush administration] “spent a great deal of time talking about imposing user fees, and at no time explained to the American people, let alone the Congress, how the system would work. So it was a major failure on their part.” (Link)

Economic stimulus: “There are projects that are ready to go, as far as runway and taxiway improvements and other issues addressing congestion and safety. And I believe that airport improvements should be part of any stimulus package that has a component for improving our infrastructure.” (Link)

Labor relations: “Recently, I was in a tower at an U.S. airport that is extremely busy, and of the dozen or so controllers that were on duty, the most experienced controller was on the job 18 months, and many of them were there less than a year. So there’s a horrible morale problem, everybody recognizes it but the FAA.” (Link)

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Bush: Radar-based ATC ‘doesn’t make sense’

President Bush visited DOT headquarters in Washington today, where he praised Secretary Mary Peters for her service and announced several initiatives related to aviation and passenger air travel. One part of the package: an executive order (full text here) creating a multi-agency task force to ensure that NextGen is implemented in a “safe, secure, timely, environmentally sound, efficient, and effective manner.”

The order requires the Transportation Secretary to establish an office within 60 days, and to convene an advisory committee within 180 days.

Here are the President’s remarks about air traffic management:

There’s a lot more work to be done. For example, at an age when teenage drivers use GPS systems in their cars, air traffic controllers still use World War II-era radar to guide modern jumbo jets. That doesn’t seem to make any sense to me, and I know it doesn’t make sense to the Secretary and a lot of folks in this audience. Modernizing our aviation system is an urgent challenge. So today, I’m signing an executive order that makes this task a leading priority for agencies across the federal government.

Mr. Bush also scolded members of Congress, appearing to direct his remarks to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which will consider several key bills in 2009.

Members of Congress have responsibilities. As they take up the next highway and aviation bills in the coming year, they should adhere to a few principles. They should harness the power of the free market through policies like congestion pricing, which uses the laws of supply and demand to reduce traffic on our roads and in the air.

They should ensure that taxpayer funds for transportation are allocated based on the true needs of the American people, not spent on wasteful earmarks or the political demands of influential lobbies.

They should provide incentives for the private sector to develop new technologies, invest in our infrastructure, and help make our transportation system worthy of the 21st century.

Just a little advice.

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Controllers want changes in ATOP system

The National Association of Air Traffic Controllers issued a press release this week, calling on the new administration to reevaluate the Advanced Technologies for Oceanic Procedures system. ATOP allows aircraft to transmit location coordinates across long distances in an automated fashion, but the implimentation is somewhat controversial because airlines are allowed to set their own policies about how frequently updates are sent to controllers. NATCA is worried that controllers could be disciplined or fired, even when separation data from aircraft is inadequate. ATOP is used at all three of the FAA’s oceanic centers: Ronkonkoma NY, Oakland CA, and Anchorage AK.

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It’s official: Obama names transportation transition team

The office of the President-Elect confirmed yesterday what Fly NextGen first reported Wednesday morning: Former FAA Administrator Jane Garvey will be helping to lead Mr. Obama’s transition team on transportation issues. Other key members of the team:

  • Seth Harris is a member of the Obama-Biden Transition Project’s Agency Review Working Group responsible for the labor, education, and transportation agencies. He is a professor and the Director of Labor & Employment Law Programs at New York Law School.
  • Mortimer Downey is a self-employed transportation consultant who served for eight years as the Deputy Secretary of Transportation under President Clinton, and was an Assistant Secretary of Transportation during the Carter Administration.
  • Michael Huerta is Group President of ACS Transportation Solutions, a company that provides technology solutions for the transportation industry.

(Biographical elements are from the OPE transition website).

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FAA covered up DFW controller errors: DOT investigation

From the Associated Press:

A Transportation Department investigation has concluded that Federal Aviation Administration officials covered up safety errors at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the second such admonishment in the past three years. [..]
[The U.S. Office of Special Counsel found] that between November 2005 and July 2007 FAA managers intentionally misclassified 62 instances in which airplanes were allowed to fly closer together than they were supposed to, attributing the errors to pilots or categorizing them as nonevents in an attempt to shift blame away from air traffic controllers at the Texas airport.

More here.

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Jane Garvey to head FAA transition team: source

UPDATE NOV. 13 — No public announcement yet, still awaiting confirmation from a third party.

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NYT article: “In Modeling Risk, the Human Factor Was Left Out”

Excellent article, posted to the discussion forum of the Fly NextGen Linkedin group:

Today’s economic turmoil, it seems, is an implicit indictment of the arcane field of financial engineering — a blend of mathematics, statistics and computing. Its practitioners devised not only the exotic, mortgage-backed securities that proved so troublesome, but also the mathematical models of risk that suggested these securities were safe.

What happened?

The models, according to finance experts and economists, did fail to keep pace with the explosive growth in complex securities, the resulting intricate web of risk and the dimensions of the danger.

But the larger failure, they say, was human — in how the risk models were applied, understood and managed. Some respected quantitative finance analysts, or quants, as financial engineers are known, had begun pointing to warning signs years ago. But while markets were booming, the incentives on Wall Street were to keep chasing profits by trading more and more sophisticated securities, piling on more debt and making larger and larger bets.

“Innovation can be a dangerous game,” said Andrew W. Lo, an economist and professor of finance at the Sloan School of Management of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The technology got ahead of our ability to use it in responsible ways.”

Bob Pearce commented:

While this article is focused on how risk modeling contributed to the failure of the financial system, it is an interesting perspective on the pitfalls of modeling risk in very complex, human-centric systems such as NextGen.

Pascal commented:

This quote jumped out at me: “Better modeling, more wisely applied, would have helped, Mr. Lindsey said, but so would have common sense in senior management.” — My question: What would a mechanism look like that would encourage systematic and serious-minded sanity checks in a complex organizational context?

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JPDO’s Bob Pearce: NextGen needs more than a better ‘elevator’ pitch

Bob Pearce, JPDO Deputy Director, submitted the following comment (Thanks Bob!), in response to the post Jane Garvey on NextGen: “We don’t know what our vision is.”

I have a lot of respect for Jane Garvey and Ken Meade, but it is clear they want to define NextGen in conventional terms – in terms of today’s system. NextGen is a transformation – just like the internet was a transformation in the way we communicate and interact. While we can describe the modernized physical systems that will form the backbone of NextGen, the most interesting part is the change in roles and relationships among the participants in the air transportation system. That cannot be fully determined and described in advance – just like it would have been impossible to describe how the internet would be used in advance. NextGen is not just hardware and software systems, it is the people and the relationships, and it is the evolution that will occur. The NextGen Concept of Operations describes how this may work in the future, but it is a target to evolve toward and adjust, not a deterministic end-state. And while we may need a better “elevator” speech to describe the vision, what we really need as we transition to a new administration is leadership that can manage in this new model.

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Airports sought for participation in disaster preparedness study

It’s not NextGen per se, but safety-minded airports may want to consider joining an interesting study being launched by American Public University professor Jim Smith. Smith believes that U.S. airports can do a better job of coordinating with local and regional emergency management agencies around non-aviation disasters (hurricanes, etc.), and has already secured the cooperation of ANC, ATL, CLT, IAH, IND, JFK, LAX, SFO, and many others. All U.S. airports may participate; deadline to get on board is Dec 1, 2008.

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Jane Garvey on NextGen: ‘We don’t know what our vision is.’

The AOPA brought together a group of veteran DC insiders for a panel discussion at their expo this past week (article with video link here): James Coyne (Air Transport Association), Steve Alterman (Cargo Airline Association), Jane Garvey, and Ken Mead. Facing an audience that certainly has its own skepticism about ADS-B, panelists took the opportunity to express their reservations about the NextGen project — at least in its current incarnation.

Jane Garvey, former FAA Administrator: “We don’t know what our vision is for NextGen. No one can define it, no one can really describe it, and no one can say how we’re going to get there over the next 3 to 5 years.”

Ken Mead, former DOT inspector general: “With all respect, NextGen is something that … there’s not much ‘there’ there. It is the functional equivalent of … it’s more of a slogan than anything else. A very clever slogan, I might say, because it has gotten a parade way out in front of it, and only now are people sitting back and saying: what is this thing, how much is it going cost, when is it going to be delivered, what are we going to do with our system for the next five years?

Mead went on to suggest that the new administration might be a source of clear-headed thinking on the issue.

I believe that the Obama administration will come in and identify three big priorities in aviation. One will be labor-management relations. The second will be defining NextGen, costing it out, and really doing the very clinical in-depth surgery on where NextGen is. It would be a very serious mistake if they just say: ‘Oh yeah, let’s go, let’s move out and deploy NextGen, no sweat.’ So that’s the prediction. And number three, of course, will be the financing of FAA.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press published an in-depth list of possible candidates for cabinet-level posts in the new administration. Among the options mentioned for Transportation Secretary: Mortimer Downey, Ed Rendell, and Jane Garvey. (Newsweek also likes Jim Oberstar, Tim Kaine, Kathleen Sebelius, and Valerie Jarrett.)

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WSJ: President Obama should prioiritize NextGen

The Wall Street Journal’s business travel columnist, Scott McCartney, wants Mr. Obama to take NextGen seriously. (Column here – from Rocky Mountain News; WSJ is subscriber-only)

Dear Mr. Next President, Your “To Do” list is obviously quite long, what with war, recession and other problems awaiting attention. But there’s one problem vital to the nation’s well-being that can be improved relatively quickly and comparatively cheaply.

Fix the nation’s air-traffic-control system.

It doesn’t have to take decades. You can make a lot of progress now, when air-traffic congestion is in a lull, and boost capacity before the next presidential election in 2012. Millions of Americans who travel by air would appreciate the help.

You’ve been flying around on a chartered plane for a long time, but had you been flying commercial flights, you’d know what most regular travelers know: Airline travel is a mess. Travelers are unhappy with airlines. Airlines are unhappy with the government.

McCartney goes on to argue for the privatization (or at least the separation) of the FAA’s controller operations from its oversight activities. From where we sit, that seems a bit of a long shot against the backdrop of a Democratically-controlled Congress and White House.

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Explainer: Wide Area Augmentation System

Do you know exactly what WAAS is, and what sets it apart from regular GPS? Could you explain it in a few sentences?  If not, this FAA fact sheet is for you.  Clearly written, and also includes a brief history of how WAAS was developed and deployed.

Interesting tidbit: according to the FAA, WAAS approaches now outnumber traditional ILS approaches.

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FAA, EU officials lament obstacles to NextGen implementation

ATW has some good first-hand reporting from the Air Traffic Controllers Association Conference and Exposition:

Executive Director-SESAR Joint Undertaking Patrick Ky and FAA Air Traffic Organization COO Hank Krakowski argued that it is critical to move forward with developing the SESAR and NextGen ATC systems even as traffic growth is slowing and near-term funding may be limited, and pushed for greater transatlantic cooperation.
“We really need to have a common set of equipment,” Ky explained. “It will be difficult because we each tend to focus on our own issues. . .but especially in a time of economic uncertainty it doesn’t make sense to duplicate resources.” He said common technological development should expand even further, calling on ICAO to play an “important role” to “make sure that what is being agreed to [regarding] SESAR and NextGen can be agreed upon globally.” [..]
But US Air Transport Assn. President and CEO Jim May cautioned that “to think that there’s going to be a huge contribution to the [FAA] general fund [to fund NextGen initiatives near-term] is a bit of a myth. We’ve got to find creative, innovative ways to incentivize people to equip [aircraft] and get this process started.”

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Honeywell, ACSS receive funding to demonstrate ADS-B’s value

The FAA says it wants to speed up the deployment of avionics that can take advantage of ADS-B technology, and is funding a small demonstration project meant to prove the value of having that data in the cockpit. (FAA Press release) The $9 million effort will be conducted by Honeywell and ACSS, and calls for two planes to be outfitted with a full suite of NextGen gadgetry. Other partners on the project: US Airways (which will work with ACSS), plus Alaska Airlines and JetBlue Airways (which will provide pilots).

A sidenote: ACSS is a joint venture of aerospace IT heavyweights L3 Communications and Thales Group.

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FAA convenes Runway Safety Council

The FAA, pursuing its stated goal of prioritizing runway safety, has convened a new expert group to develop a broad set of recommendations on the issue. (FAA press release). In the announcement, the agency is making it clear that it is empahsizing cultural change:

The goal of the council is to fundamentally change the existing safety culture and move toward a proactive management strategy that involves different segments of the aviation industry. [..]
A coordinated, systemic approach is necessary because serious runway incursions are seldom caused by a single factor. The current culture separates responsibility for incursions into different categories: operational errors by controllers, pilot deviations or vehicle or pedestrian deviations. Investigations into those incidents are conducted by different parts of the agency, depending on which category is responsible.

A laundry list of groups and associations are represented on the council, including NACTA, ALPA, ATA, AAAE, AOPA, NAFI, NBAA, and several others. For a deeper look at the state of U.S. runway safety including current statistics, check out the FAA’s fact sheet.

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