Monthly Archives: February 2009

White house budget framework has $800m for NextGen, hints at user fees

from Aviation Week:

The [Obama administration] budget framework mentions $800 million for the NextGen air traffic modernization effort, although it did not detail which programs this would cover or how much of an increase it represents.

The administration also dropped something of a bombshell in a footnote, saying the budget “proposes repealing some aviation excise taxes and replacing [them] with direct user charges.” While no other details were offered, this could revive the user-fee debate that arose in the last administration.

House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) notes that the budget “appears to propose some type of aviation user fee.” Although he will “reserve judgment” until more details emerge, he noted that user fees have been “proposed several times in the past by…various administrations, and have not been adopted by Congress.” Oberstar believes “the current system of aviation excise taxes has proven to be a stable and efficient source of funding for our aviation system.”

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Wired on MITRE & the NYC airspace redesign

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.”

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EXCLUSIVE: Bruce Holmes on the end of DayJet and the future of commercial aviation

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.

Some quotes:

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.”

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A closer look at H.R. 915

Here some salient details about the reauthorization legislation submitted as H.R. 915. It’s worth looking at the legislative text in detail; the sections pertinent to NextGen can be found here.

Funding Levels

The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2009 provides the following funding levels ($70 billion) for the Federal Aviation Administration’s (“FAA”) capital programs between fiscal year (“FY”) 2009 and FY 2012:

  • $16.2 billion for the Airport Improvement Program (“AIP”);
  • $13.4 billion for FAA Facilities & Equipment (“F&E”);
  • $38.9 billion for FAA Operations; and
  • $1.35 billion for Research, Engineering, and Development (“RE&D”).
Air Traffic Control Modernization and NextGen

* Funding: $13.4 billion for FAA F&E to accelerate the implementation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (“NextGen”); enable FAA to make needed repairs and replacement of existing facilities and equipment; and provide for the implementation of high-priority safety-related systems.

* Accountability: Elevates the Director of the Joint Planning and Development Office (“JPDO”) to the status of Associate Administrator of NextGen within the FAA, reporting directly to the FAA Administrator. Annual reporting requirements on NextGen-related deliverables; and provisions to ensure FAA vendor accountability for providing safe, quality services for automatic dependant surveillance broadcast (“ADS-B”) and flight service stations.

* NextGen Demonstrations: Several development activities are authorized to be funded. These activities may include trajectory-based operations and super density operations to mature technologies, investment, and deployment of new capabilities while also identifying early implementation opportunities and refining longer-term objectives.

Airports

* Passenger Facility Charge (“PFC”): Increases the PFC cap from $4.50 to $7.00. According to the FAA, if every airport currently collecting a $4.00 or $4.50 PFC raised its PFC to $7.00, it would generate approximately $1.1 billion in additional revenue for airport development each year. Provides significant increases in AIP funding for smaller airports that are particularly reliant on AIP for capital financing.
* Safety Critical Staffing: Directs the FAA to increase the number of aviation safety inspectors.

* Air Carrier Oversight: Creates an independent Aviation Safety Whistleblower Investigation Office within the FAA; mandates a two-year “post-service” cooling off period after FAA inspectors leave the FAA; principal supervisory inspectors must be rotated between airline oversight offices every five years; and monthly reviews of the Air Transportation Oversight System database are required to ensure that trends in regulatory compliance are identified and appropriate corrective actions taken.

* Runway Incursions: Provides for $46 million over four years for runway incursion reduction programs; $325 million over four years for runway status light acquisition and installation; and requires FAA to submit strategic runway safety plan to Congress.

* Foreign Repair Stations: Requires FAA to inspect part 145 certificated foreign repair stations at least twice a year and requires drug and alcohol testing for those individuals working on U.S. aircraft.

* Flight Crew Fatigue: Requires the FAA to contract with the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study on pilot fatigue, and update, where appropriate, its regulations regarding flight and duty time requirements for pilots. FAA must also initiate a process to carry out the recommendations of the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute regarding flight attendant fatigue.

Environment

* CLEEN Engine and Airframe Technology Partnership: Directs the FAA to enter into a 10-year cooperative agreement with an institution, entity, or eligible consortium to carry out a program for the development, maturing and certification of continuous lower energy, emissions and noise (“CLEEN”) engine and airframe technology to reduce aircraft environmental impacts and energy usage.

* Environmental Mitigation Pilot Program: Authorizes the FAA to fund six projects at public-use airports to take promising environmental research concepts into the airport environment to demonstrate the technology’s ability to reduce aviation impacts on noise, air or water quality in the airport environment. The Federal share of the project is fifty percent, not to exceed $2.5 million per project.

* Prohibition on Stage II Aircraft: Requires, within 5 years, all civil subsonic aircraft under 75,000 pounds meet stage 3 noise levels within the 48 contiguous states, with limited exceptions for certain temporary operations.

* Essential Air Service (“EAS”) & Small Community Air Service Development (“SCASD”) Program Financing: Increases EAS funding annually from $127 million to $200 million and extends SCASD through FY 2012 at the current authorized funding level of $35 million per year.

* EAS Reform: Incorporates financial incentives into EAS contracts based on specified performance goals(such as establishing reasonable fares (including joint fares beyond the hub airport), creating convenient connections to hub airports, and increasing market efforts); utilizes long-term contracts for stability; and reduces the local share of AIP project costs from ten percent to five percent for certain economically depressed communities that receive subsidized air service under the EAS program. Increases the existing $200 per passenger subsidy cap by an amount necessary to account for the increase in the cost of aviation fuel in the 24 months preceding the date of enactment; authorizes the Secretary to provide emergency across-the-board increase in EAS subsidy payments to compensate EAS carriers for increased aviation fuel costs; and requires faster adjustments to subsidy rates to reflect changing costs.

Consumer Protection

* Emergency Contingency Plans: Requires airlines and airports to have emergency contingency plans in place and detail how they will allow passengers to deplane following excessive delays, with civil penalties if the plans are not followed.

* DOT Actions: DOT is required to publicize and maintain a hotline for consumer complaints, establish an Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection, expand consumer complaints investigated, and requires air carriers to report diverted and canceled flight information monthly. DOT is directed to prohibit the use of voice communication using a mobile phone on scheduled flights.

Labor

* Express Carrier Employee Protection: Amends the Railway Labor Act (“RLA”) to clarify that employees of an “express carrier” shall only be covered by the RLA if they are employed in a position that is eligible for certification under FAA’s rules, such as mechanics or pilots, and they are actually performing that type of work for the express carrier. All other express carrier employees would be governed by the National Labor Relations Act.

* FAA Personnel Management System: Requires that, if the FAA and one of its bargaining units do not reach agreement, the services of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service shall be used or the parties may agree to an alternative dispute resolution procedure. This requirement applies to the new dispute resolution process to the ongoing dispute between the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and the FAA.

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Unmanned Aircraft Systems get boost in North Dakota

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.

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New stab at reauthorization includes $13.5b for NextGen

Aviation Week has a look at the legislation and testimony that came out of the House Aviation Subcommittee last week on reauthorization:

While Congress was unable to move the bill forward last year – leaving FAA to operate under a series of short-term extensions, [Committee Chairman Jim] Oberstar last week expressed optimism that the legislation would get passed. “We have a new President and a new Congress. This time we’ll get the job done.” But Oberstar’s counterparts in the Senate have not indicated their plans for long-term reauthorization. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has discussed the possibility of another temporary extension through the end of the year.

[…]  Industry groups believe that an increase in the general fund contribution is “reasonable and appropriate,” said Rockwell Collins Chairman Clay Jones, who was testifying on behalf of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, the Aerospace Industries Association and Aeronautical Repair Station Association. Jones stressed the need to generate cash to expedite NextGen efforts.

H.R.915 calls for $13.5 billion to accelerate the implementation of NextGen as well as other FAA Facilities & Equipment expenses. In addition, the bill targets specific development funding and elevates the director of the Joint Planning and Development Office to the status of associate administrator of NextGen.

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Given capacity cuts, why is on-time performance not improving?

From Travel Weekly:

With fewer people flying aboard fewer planes, industry mavens could not agree on why most airlines’ on-time percentages have failed to improve significantly.

Major airlines as a group reported an improvement in on-time arrivals of 2.6 percentage points for 2008 compared with 2007, but analysts said they had expected better.

Though an improvement over 2007, the 2008 on-time percentage was 2.2 points below the industry’s 11-year average. The DOT started keeping track of on-time performance in 1987.

Logic suggests that the airlines should be doing much better with on-time performance, given capacity cuts and traffic decreases, industry experts said.

The reasons they are not doing better might speak to the complexity of airline operations, with their many moving pieces. It could be weather. It could be labor. It could be seasonal congestion.

“That’s a puzzle,” said Robert Poole of the Reason Foundation.

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Skies darken for short-term NextGen boost

from NextGov:

Senate aviation leaders from both parties are each proposing to add more than half a billion dollars to the economic stimulus bill to modernize the nation’s air traffic control system.

But, echoing a larger disagreement between the parties in the stimulus talks, whether to offset the new spending or just add to the bill’s overall cost is keeping Commerce Chairman John (Jay) Rockefeller and ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison from backing each other’s amendment and might sink both attempts.

Neither amendment seems likely to survive, as Republican complaints about the overall cost of the bill seem destined to make it difficult for anyone to add even more money.

Far more likely to be added is an amendment Rockefeller and Hutchison have joined forces on that would extend aviation funding and taxes until the end of the fiscal year. The funding and taxes are set to expire at the end of March.

That extension — and agreement by Rockefeller and Hutchison that aviation modernization funding should be in the stimulus — comes as lawmakers will try again this Congress to approve a multi-year FAA bill.

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Babbitt’s star rising quickly: WSJ

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.

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LaHood creates team to coordinate stimulus spending

DOT press release:

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced that he has created a team at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to coordinate the Department’s role in President Obama’s economic recovery program. The team will ensure that economic recovery funding is rapidly made available for transportation infrastructure projects and that project spending is monitored and transparent.

The team, known as the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) team, is composed of officials from across the Department’s operating administrations and offices. The team is co-chaired by Lana Hurdle, deputy assistant secretary for budget and programs, and Joel Szabat, deputy assistant secretary for transportation policy.

“We created the TIGER team to make sure that DOT’s portion of recovery funding goes out to states and localities as quickly as possible in order to immediately create jobs and strengthen our economy and transportation systems,” Secretary LaHood said.

The team will identify and prioritize key highway, bridge, transit, rail, aviation and intermodal spending. The team also will develop reporting standards to accurately track the money as it is being spent and ensure that all accountability requirements are being met.

The Department’s chief economist and Performance Management Office will coordinate with the Office of Management and Budget and other White Office offices on the performance measures that will be used to track job creation and other indications of the impact of each infrastructure investment.

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Washington Post: Unnamed source says Randy Babbitt candidate for top FAA job

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.

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LaHood emphasizes roads, transparency, no earmarks, oh, and NextGen too

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.”

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FAA updates NextGen Implementation Plan; emphasis on avionics

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.

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