Monthly Archives: March 2009

Newly fashionable: complaining about lack of NextGen progress

Feeling impatient about the pace of ATC modernization? Apparently, you’ve got plenty of company. The griping began at the recent Senate hearings on NextGen, with opening remarks coming from subcommittee Chairman Byron Dorgan:

We need to make progress. Some are talking about NextGen 2020, 2025. In my judgment, that’s a pace that is too slow. We need to make substantially more progress at a much better pace than that. [..] This is not some ’20 years from now’ sci-fi application.

Later in the hearing, Dorgan directed a particular criticism at what he considers to be stakeholder infighting:

You all work for the same team, paid by the same taxpayers. All of us are tired of delay, and we’re tired of some of the battles that go on.

Not to be outdone, Sen. Jay Rockefeller brought home the same point in his prepared statement:

I strongly believe that modernizing our nation’s embarrassingly obsolete air traffic control system is the FAA’s highest priority, and the efforts to reauthorize should reflect this.

Everyone knows of my passion to move the U.S. past Mongolia in the ranking of air traffic control systems, and I’d like to make just a few very brief remarks on this issue.

The development of NextGen is not just a technology project that would be good to do.  It is not just some computer upgrade project.  [..]

For too long, we have focused on the technology of the system.  We’ve become too focused on acronyms like SWIM and ADS-B, rather than the benefits that all Americans will enjoy by building a satellite-based system with digital communications.

This was just the beginning. Later in the hearing, Rockefeller followed up:

I, like Chairman Dorgan, am very intense about this subject.  And I’m kind of tired of talking about it. Everything that the President talks about, that is — carbon release, wasted time, damage to the economy, frustrated people, people not having reason to have confidence in their government, etc. — all comes together in not having NextGen, NowGen, whatever you want to call it. Some people are using the excuse that we don’t have the money for it. I consider that to be way off the mark. We have to do this and we have to do it right away. So my question to you is: why are we so slow?

Answers were thin on ground, but these remarks appear to have opened the door for others to go on record with their frustrations. United Airlines CEO and ATA Chairman Glenn Tilton gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal on Friday, in which he returned to the issue of how transportation stimulus funds were allocated.

“While it makes sense that projects need to be ‘shovel-ready’ to help these efforts in 2009, they must have to be ‘next generation’ to sustain future growth in the years ahead,” Mr. Tilton said. “Why then is rapid rail in the stimulus package for some $9 billion and for NextGen, zero?”

In an interview, Mr. Tilton said he doesn’t know why the project wasn’t included in the stimulus package. “Perhaps the absence of an FAA administrator left the project without an advocate,” he said. “If there were to be a second stimulus package, I and the ATA board would make a compelling case for NextGen inclusion.”

When the White House appoints a new FAA administrator, a step expected very soon, the new FAA chief should try to bring the timetable for the ATC system forward and “front-load the benefits,” Mr. Tilton said. “What can we do promptly with technology available today? It should be now-gen rather than next-gen.”

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Randy Babbitt named FAA Administrator; airline reaction positive so far

From the Wall Street Journal:

Friday’s appointment prompted predictable accolades from various labor leaders. But reflecting Mr. Babbitt’s ability to appeal to industry, airline executives and the industry’s main lobbying group also chimed in with expressions of strong support.

Glenn Tilton, chairman and chief executive officer of United Airlines parent UAL Corp., said Friday that Mr. Babbitt’s appointment would be a positive step because he is “multi-dimensional, experienced and has been involved in the industry in a number of ways.” More than a compromise between airline management and union desires, Mr. Tilton said the nominee’s “breadth of experience was an important consideration.” His priority “should be moving the timetable forward” on the next-generation air-traffic control system in planning since the 1970s.

[..] Doug Parker, chairman and CEO of US Airways Group Inc., said Friday that he would be very pleased if Mr. Babbitt gets the job. “Randy understands the aviation industry extraordinarily well and he knows what need to be done.” He “absolutely” would speed up the move toward the new (air-navigation) system,” Mr. Parker said. “I think he’d be fantastic.”

Mr. Babbitt, who still flies small planes for recreation, managed to build a reservoir of industry trust partly through membership in a number of blue-ribbon government commission and advisory groups. In 1993, he served as a White-House appointed member of the National Commission to Ensure a Strong Competitive Airline Industry. He was also a presidential appointee to the FAA Management Advisory Council, created by the FAA Reauthorization Act of 1996.

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Hank Krakowski: “We have included controllers in all phases of NextGen so far.”

The FAA’s Hank Krawkowski testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations, and Security today, and summarized the last year’s worth of movement on ATC issues as well as the development of NextGen planning. One of the more interesting portions of Krakowski’s prepared remarks came at the very end, where he specifically addressed the labor dispute between the FAA and the National Association of Air Traffic Controllers:

I know that this Committee has always been interested in how FAA has interacted with our labor unions, and I would like to address that briefly. In his confirmation hearing before this Committee, Secretary LaHood made it very clear that resolving labor disputes was one of his top priorities for the FAA, and that he was seeking to fill the FAA Administrator position with someone who had the people skills to resolve our outstanding issues with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA). As someone who has sat on both sides of the labor debate, I fully support the Secretary’s priority on this.

Our controllers, indeed, our entire workforce, are our most valuable assets in ensuring the safety of the traveling public. As such, we have included controllers in all phases of NextGen so far. Controller input has come from individual controllers who have been invited to participate in NextGen development, though they were not participating as official NATCA representatives. NATCA does have a seat on the NextGen Management Board, the governance structure that we originally put in place as our framework for achieving NextGen. I look forward to moving ahead towards a resolution of our differences. These have been challenging times for us, and I want to commend all the hard work that has occurred on both sides.

The full transcript is available here.

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IATA: Airline industry to post $4.7b loss in 2009

The International Air Transport Association released its updated 2009 industry forecast, and the news is grim.  Per the Wall Street Journal:

For 2009, the IATA said it now expects an aggregate industry loss of $4.7 billion, compared to a loss of $2.5 billion that it forecast in December.

“The state of the airline industry today is grim,” said Giovanni Bisignani, head of the trade group. “Demand has deteriorated much more rapidly with the economic slowdown than could have been anticipated even a few months ago.”

[..] Falling fuel prices are helping to curb even larger losses for the airline industry. “Fuel is the only good news,” Mr. Bisignani said. “But the relief of lower fuel prices is overshadowed by falling demand and plummeting revenues. The industry is in intensive care,” he said.

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Southwest full steam ahead on RNP upgrade

An interesting story — and admirable reporting — from Henry Canaday at Airline Procurement Magazine about Southwest Airlines’ commitment to Required Navigation Performance:

Jeff Martin, senior director-flight operations at Southwest, says RNP has been pursued in four “swim lanes” via FAA, pilots, aircraft and airports. Application for RNP Operation Specifications recently was submitted to FAA and Martin is hoping for approval in May or June.

Training and certification of 5,600 pilots has begun and will finish in 2010. Initial training enabled the airline in January to activate its automatic throttles and vertical navigation, bringing the first benefits from RNP: More efficient continuous descent approaches.

Southwest’s 300 737NGs need very little modification for RNP. Modification has begun on 737 Classics and should be completed by 2013. The carrier has developed RNP procedures for William P. Hobby and Dallas Love Field and is working with additional airports, Naverus and FAA to develop procedures for other destinations.

Martin aims to have the majority of SWA’s network using RNP by 2012 but admits this is a very ambitious goal. Other airlines–American, Continental and Alaska, for example–are moving forward with RNP, but not in such a visible and fleetwide fashion.

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“Randy Babbitt picked to head the FAA”…

says the Wall Street Journal.

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Vicky Cox: “Our programs are currently on track, our partnerships are strong.”

At this week’s Aviation Subcommittee hearing on NextGen, the FAA’s Vicky Cox laid out her views on what her agency has accomplished as well as the state of current initiatives. The testimony is fairly lengthy; here two brief excerpts:

A year ago, we received several recommendations from varied sources about how we should deliver NextGen. The Senior Policy Committee of the JPDO asked us to accelerate NextGen, to shift from concept development to execution. Stakeholders continually asked for a single point of accountability for NextGen. Industry wanted more focused oversight by FAA of JPDO deliverables; and most experts recognized that the Air Traffic Organization (ATO), as the operator of the national airspace system, has ultimate responsibility and accountability for NextGen implementation in that system.

In response to these recommendations, the NextGen and Operations Planning Organization, under my leadership as a Senior Vice President in the Air Traffic Organization, was made accountable for delivering NextGen to the National Airspace System, the NAS. I am responsible for implementation of all elements of NextGen and have authority over all matters related to FAA NextGen research, technology development, acquisition, integration, and implementation including allocation within the FAA of NextGen budgets.

[..] As you can see, we are working steadily and carefully to bring NextGen to fruition. Our programs are currently on track, our partnerships are strong. We have mapped out our course and we are moving towards our goals, and we look forward to your continued guidance and oversight as we go forward.

As always, comments and reactions are welcome. Direct your thoughts to editor (at) flynextgen (dot) com.

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