From the Associated Press:
Utah’s two U.S. senators are urging the Federal Aviation Administration to hold off testing a new computer system at a Salt Lake City air traffic control center that guides planes across portions of eight states.
Republican Sens. Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch wrote FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt on June 11, asking him to delay a test of the new system at the Salt Lake Air Route Traffic Control Center. [..] “Safety concerns demand that ERAM (the computer system) not be implemented until it meets and exceeds the standards of reliability and stability of the system it replaces,” the senators wrote.
FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the agency has a meeting scheduled for Tuesday with the union representing air traffic controllers to discuss the test. She said agency officials still have confidence the test can take place as planned.
The test is scheduled from midnight to 4 a.m. on June 18, said Doug Pincock, an air traffic controller [and NATCA rep — ed.] in Salt Lake City. During that period the main computer system that the control center has used for nearly two decades will be switched off and the new system, known as En route Automation Modernization, will be switched on, Pincock said.
Further information: NATCA’s press release; FAA ERAM fact sheet; Text of letter to Randy Babbitt from Sens. Bennett and Hatch.
The Dallas Morning News had a catch-all, general interest article about the status of NextGen. Here are some quotes:
Aviation consultant Michael Boyd: “Capt. Babbitt isn’t going to run the FAA – it is going to run him. I have no confidence this is going to work. The public is simply being bamboozled by the FAA about how this is working.”
NATCA spokesman Doug Church: “The new administration seems to want to include input from all the stakeholders. We’re quite hopeful about NextGen.”
Southwest Airlines EVP Ron Rocks: “We need the will to get this done. We need what they’re calling a World War II plan in Washington. We won that war in three or four years – that’s what we need for NextGen.”
At a speech before the RTCA, recently confirmed FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt offered some of his views on NextGen:
The only way we’re going to get rotation on this is by making sure the parties are at the table, making sure that their voices are heard. That’s the way I intend to keep it. Decisions made in a vacuum will bring the system to its knees. We’ve seen that before, and I have no desire to see us learn that lesson again.
We need constructive input. The FAA should not try to address policies or governing principles in a vacuum if we intend to maximize effectiveness. Policies can promote enhanced benefits, but we’ve got to craft them appropriately. The NextGen Implementation Task Force has more than 350 people involved, and the working groups have 280. That shows me that you’re willing to speak up, and from where I stand, that’s what we need. [..]
While I’m putting things out that, I’ve got to add this — NextGen is just flat out not moving fast enough. We must accelerate NextGen. I want more, and I want more faster. This administration has been unequivocal in its statements that the status quo just won’t go. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been flying since my sixteenth birthday, and the pilots and the people around them in this mix are eager to have things that advance safety and efficiency. I count myself in that group.
I’ve got to close with a couple of thoughts. One, NextGen is a clear priority. And let me say for the record that I’m interested in delivery. I have absolutely no plans to get involved with the arguments about NextGen or NowGen or then or when Gen. I’m not one for labels. When you boil all this down, and all the liquid is gone, the task at hand remains the same. We’ve got to make the system more efficient, and we’ve got to make it safer while doing it. Let’s face it. We don’t have the time to argue about what to call it. What we know is that Congress and the taxpayer want something now. I think they’re right to ask for it.
In a Chicago Tribune article about Thursday’s AIRE demo flight, American Airlines captain and spokesman Brian Will had this to say:
“For years, we’ve had all this great equipment on the airplanes, but we are not able to use a lot of these things because of what essentially are speed bumps caused by an outdated air-traffic system,” said Brian Will, a Boeing 777 captain at American who is also the airline’s technical programs manager. “This flight from Paris’ Charles De Gaulle to Miami International will show what can be accomplished — several thousands of pounds of fuel saved on that one flight — if we can get the regulators and the rules out of the way,” Will said. [..]
“Airplanes using GPS can report their real-time position anywhere on the planet with accuracy of 20 feet,” Will said. “We have the tools today and really shouldn’t be forced to wait until 2020.”
Elizabeth, one of our readers, had this to say in response to our recent entry about education and workforce development issues in the aviation sector:
While I agree that the aviation industry is going to be struggling because of the lack of upcoming students, there needs to be more of an effort to recruit recent engineering graduates. I am an undergraduate student with numerous friends who have recently graduated with engineering degrees. At least half of them tell me they would love to get into the aviation field, but aviation companies are just not hiring.
If the aviation industry is indeed in dire need of young talent, why not look to these students? If they are hiring, then more needs to be done to clear up students’ misconceptions about the lack of job prospects in the aviation industry.
It would be interesting to hear what industry players have to say about this. Are short-term pressures competing against long-term needs? Are certain types of jobs available if one knows where to look?
Charlie Leader presented the following JPDO milestones in his all-hands update last week (links are included where available):
- FY11 Budget Guidance submitted to OST/OMB on February 20
- The Environmental Management System R&D initiated in March
- Roll-Out Plan for 2012 implementation of Net-Centric Information Sharing Capability released on March 12
- ATM Weather Integration Plan released on April 22
- NextGen Integrated Work Plan (IWP) agency gap analysis completed in April
- Phase 2 Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS) ConOps endorsed by Board members at the JPDO Board Meeting on May 5
- Integrated Surveillance ConOps delivered on May 7
The original presentation is here.
Jim Swickard at Aviation Week has the following analysis in the wake of the FAA reauthorization bill passing the House:
The current FAA bill retains the FAA funding mix of excise taxes, fuel taxes and general fund contributions, but increases the general aviation jet fuel tax rate from 21.8 cents per gallon to 35.9 cents per gallon and increase the avgas tax from 19.3 cents per gallon to 24.1 cents per gallon. These were the same rates the Way and Means Committee endorsed in the previous Congress.
Industry groups stated their acceptance these tax hikes in lieu of user fees when they were proposed last year.
The Air Transport Association last year had complained vociferously that General Aviation was not paying its fair share of Air Traffic Control costs. That argument was muted by AOPA, NBAA and NATA’s eerily gracious acceptance of the increased fuel taxes.
There are philosophical issues related to the U.S. General Fund contribution to the FAA and ATC budgets and the Obama administration wants to reduce that contribution and impose direct user fees after 2011, a prospect that would not upset the airlines. But that’s for tomorrow.
For now, all parties involved; industry associations, regulators and legislators can feel proud of their unity of larger purpose while not cluttering the playing field with their differences. In other words, they have acted like aviators – to their great credit.
Can this collegial atmosphere hold through passage of a final bill by both the House and Senate, and the President’s signature? Stay tuned.
Swickard’s view is compelling, though offset somewhat by the contents of a highly critical letter sent to Congress by ATA President James May (full text at Aero-News.net):
We have asked that Congress:
- Expedite investment in and deployment of NextGen. The United States is at a critical juncture right now. Either we can accelerate the transformation of the ATC, to allow air transportation to grow in a safe and efficient manner while achieving environmental benefits, or we can risk bringing our economy and leadership in technology to a halt by failing to address our growing aviation capacity constraints. Leadership from the committee is needed to ensure that appropriate funding and program direction is in place to accelerate the deployment of this critical program.
- Reject increasing taxes and fees on passengers. An increase in the maximum passenger facility charge (PFC) from $4.50 per segment to $7 per segment would impose an additional and unwarranted $2 billion tax increase per year on commercial passengers. With airport revenue eclipsing record levels – over $12.7 billion in 2007 – and with $27 billion in unrestricted financial assets, the imposition of an increased PFC tax is not only unwarranted, but also will further reduce demand for travel.
- Protect our valued U.S. aviation repair facilities by ensuring that any requirements are applied in a manner consistent with U.S. obligations under international agreements. During recent conversations between U.S. trade associations and European officials, the Europeans have indicated that as a result of the current language in Section 303, many U.S. facilities would be subject to new, regulatory requirements by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Such duplicative, burdensome impositions are in no one’s interest.
- Reject the automatic elimination of previously granted antitrust immunity (ATI) to carriers for international marketing alliances. DOT has approved international airline alliances because they produce numerous and substantial benefits, both to the public and the participating carriers. Arbitrarily terminating antitrust immunity will have a harsh impact on airline employees and cause a ripple effect across the travel and tourism industry at a time when the industry is already hobbled.
- Maintain safety without requiring overly strict fire-fighting standards. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations have safely dictated staffing and equipment requirements for airport fire stations for years based on the needs within the airport boundary. Increasing staffing and equipment based on surrounding populations will not enhance airport safety but will increase costs unnecessarily. These are not legitimate safety claims and should be rejected.
- Allow carriers to continue improving customer service without imposing unsafe or unreasonable deplaning requirements. In particular, we oppose a hard-and-fast rule requiring airlines to give passengers the option to deplane after three hours. Mandatory deplaning will have numerous unintended consequences that, ultimately, will create even more inconvenience for passengers and lead to even more flight cancellations.