Wired Magazine went behind the scenes at MITRE as part of a lengthy look at the New York/New Jersey/Philadelphia airspace redesign project. The tone is neutral leaning towards boosterish, though at least one dissenting NATCA voice was included. A brief excerpt:
Controllers will start testing the new departure gates and arrival posts over the next two years, but they’ve been using the modified takeoff headings for months. All the planes leaving Newark used to depart along fairly similar courses, but the redesign’s “dispersal” headings aim to reduce delays by fanning flights out across the sky. [..]
[EWR tower controller Louis] Caggiano isn’t buying it. “They don’t work,” he says with a brevity that suits the simplex radio plugged into his ear. In the lab, the second plane is always ready to go when the first one leaves the ground. But the pilots at Newark aren’t robots, and they don’t move as quickly as the simulation. The airborne flights may be banking according to the new plan, but often the next takeoff isn’t even positioned at the runway centerline yet. Even so, the FAA’s analysis shows that dispersal headings alone are increasing the number of takeoffs by an average of two per hour. (A typical rush hour at Newark sees 40-something departures.) And this is only the first piece of the redesign. Patience, [MITRE strategist Joe] Hoffman says. “The controllers are working on a scale of minutes,” he says. “We’re looking at a scale of years.”
If you’ve heard of DayJet Corporation, the JPDO, NASA’s Langley Research Center, or the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, then you know a little something about the career trajectory of Bruce Holmes. Over a 30-year period, Holmes went from flight instructor and test pilot, to aeronautical engineer, to a Chief Strategist role at Langley, to advocate for the decentralization of passenger aviation in the United States. After a stint at the JPDO in the office’s early days, he joined Ed Iacobucci at DayJet Corporation — the world’s first digitally-managed, per-seat on-demand air taxi service.
In this wide-ranging interview — one of his first since DayJet Corp. filed for bankruptcy protection — Holmes talks to Fly NextGen about DayJet’s final months, the future of per-seat on-demand, and what’s needed to make NextGen a reality.
On DayJet’s potential: “We were convinced that we could produce efficiency gains at least in the range of 15 percent, and quite a bit more than that, in many cases.”
On the Eclipse 500: “The airplane [..] wasn’t quite ready for intensive utilization. We needed the ability to create a fleet dispatch reliability of 90%; this was not possible at the early stage of maturity of the airplane, meaning we depended on having many more aircraft in the fleet than those required for revenue service.”
Hurdles for NextGen: “The hard part in front of us is that industry has some major decisions they would make but cannot because of the absence of policy on the part of government. The simple truth is that the legacy carriers are not in a position financially to adopt new technology. They just can’t.”
No national vision? “Right now, there is a sort of brain block between the federal sector and the state and municipal level in terms of public policy for funding infrastructure at small airports for this fairly new purpose of public transportation to and from smaller airports. [..] We don’t have a national air transportation policy.”
From the Grand Forks (ND) Herald:
Opening more North Dakota airspace to unmanned aircraft will now be a priority for the Federal Aviation Administration, one of the agency’s top officials said Monday in Grand Forks.
By summer 2010, the agency should have a solution in place, said Hank Krakowski, the chief operating officer in charge of air traffic control.
He was accompanied by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Gov. John Hoeven, who convened a meeting of key government and military leaders at UND to talk about the airspace issue.
[..] Asked if, after 2010, unmanned aircraft would have the same freedom as manned aircraft, Krakowski was cautious. “We want (unmanned aerial vehicles) to be able to do their missions.”
[..] Last week, Dorgan became the chairman of the commerce subcommittee on aviation, the Senate body where all legislation pertaining to the FAA starts.
This was the jackpot for the local effort to turn Grand Forks into a center for unmanned aircraft operations and research, according to a business leader involved.
Dorgan said he’s particularly interested in modernizing the nation’s air traffic control infrastructure, which would make it easier for unmanned aircraft to operate with manned aircraft.
While modern unmanned aircraft have sophisticated sensors that can spot man-sized targets from high in the air in the dark of night, the FAA is concerned that remote pilots won’t be able to look around them and see imminent collisions as easily as pilots of manned aircraft.
This concern wouldn’t exist if all aircraft were directed by air traffic controllers. But many private aircraft operate at low altitude and outside the purview of the FAA. It is the risk of colliding with those aircraft that has made the FAA hesitate.
“That’s the crux of the problem,” Krakowski said.
Wall Street Journal travel columnist Andy Paztor had this to say about Randy Babbitt:
Randy Babbitt, an aviation consultant and former head of the country’s largest union representing airline pilots, is being vetted by the White House as the next likely administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, according to several people familiar with the discussions.
Mr. Babbitt’s emergence as the latest front runner follows weeks of talks among White House officials, labor leaders and lawmakers that had ended in a stalemate over earlier candidates.
Other names that emerged in connection with the administrator job included Robert T. Herbert, a longtime aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and Duane Woerth, another former pilots’ union president.
But with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood looking for an alternate choice, in recent days attention on Capitol Hill and among industry officials has focused on Babbitt. Specifically, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has started doing a background check and Obama Administration officials have alerted lawmakers about the likely choice. FAA officials declined to comment.
The developments, according people familiar with the matter, were partly prompted by the likely choice of former FAA chief Jane Garvey to get the No. 2 job at the Department of Transportation. Garvey reportedly sought out Babbitt to see if he would be interested in the FAA job.
The choice, if it goes through as anticipated, would satisfy labor leaders who have been urging appointment of someone to the FAA sympathetic to their views. Babbitt has labor connections going back to the labor-management struggles at Eastern Airlines before the carrier folded decades ago, he also is seen by many in the industry as more acceptable than Woerth.
It’s not exactly exemplary reporting, but someone told the Washington Post’s Sholnn Freeman that Randy Babbitt’s name has been added to the list of hopefuls under consideration for FAA Administrator.
A source familiar with the search process said new names are getting attention for the job, including Randy Babbitt, another former pilots’ union president. Babbitt recently served on an outside audit committee that looked into recent airline safety lapses at the FAA.
Thank goodness for the internet! Everything you ever might have wanted to know about Randy Babbitt’s career and accomplishments is available in this PDF.
DOT Secretary Ray LaHood spoke to the AP and other media in Peoria this week, and talked a little of this, a little of that.
LaHood said it is too soon to say which projects will be funded. But he said the plan is to get money to states for roads and mass transit as soon as a bill is signed and states submit paperwork.
During the interview in Peoria, LaHood also said other priorities include replacing the nation’s outdated radar-based air traffic system.
The message to the state transportation secretaries will be: “We’re looking to make sure the money is spent correctly, by the book, no short cuts,” LaHood said.
Asked about his own reputation for favoring earmarks when he represented central Illinois as a Republican in the House, LaHood said that wasn’t relevant.
“What I tell people, I’m not an independent operator anymore,” he said. “I didn’t get elected to anything in November — the president did. And he’s made very clear: We’re not going to have earmarks.”
There’s a new plan in town, and it comes from the FAA. The current update to the NextGen Implementation Plan (summary here; full doc available here) outlines the agency’s implementation commitments for the next five years, locks in a set of capabilities that it aims to make operational by 2018, and lays out a roadmap for avionics equipage.
Aviation Week had this by way of summary:
Avionics is a major focus of FAA’s latest 2018 plan. “Ensuring that a significant portion of the aircraft fleet is appropriately equipped to take advantage of NextGen infrastructure improvements is perhaps the most critical issue in achieving success,” the plan says. To achieve this, FAA advocates a “best-equipped, best-served” policy, as well as incentives for operators. The agency believes the changes it proposes could cut delays by 35%-40%, versus the “no-change” scenario.
For aircraft equipage, the plan envisages greater use of existing technology such as RNAV/RNP, electronic flight bags and data communications. However, new capabilities will also be implemented. Many of these are based on satellite navigation, drawing on automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B), with both ADS-B In and Out.
The new plan also highlights the ATC infrastructure programs that will be necessary. Many of these are already in various stages of implementation or development, such as the massive en-route automation modernization (ERAM) effort.
The NextGen portion of the FAA’s web site has a fairly detailed layout of the 2018 capability framwork broken down by “flight stage”: Planning, pushback/taxi/takeoff, climb and cruise, descent and approach, and landing/taxi/gate arrival.
We’ll hear more about avionics and the NextGen roadmap at Thursday’s JPDO all-hands meeting — stay tuned.