I recently participated in a panel discussion sponsored by RTCA at the Washington Convention Center. The primary focus of the panel was to discuss the NextGen notion of “Best Equipped Best Served”. I have a problem with the way this particular element is being batted around, because it connotes a winner/loser atmosphere which in reality doesn’t pay dividends nor supports that which we all in the industry embrace, improved service for all. Let me give you a couple of examples especially as relates to the PBN or RNP strategies and associated activity.
First, lets look at weather related system impacts (where RNP is concerned weather plays a significant role) and just how better equipped aircraft benefit by the avionics, and crew training. Take the case of CAT III operations. When the weather precludes all but those equipped and qualified to execute a CAT III approach, all those capable can and do proceed to the impacted airport, those not equipped must wait for the weather to improve before they can make an approach. In this scenario, because of the portion of the fleet that can avail themselves to a CATIII operation they clearly benefit because they may continue to maintain schedule integrity, a valuable element in the big picture. Conversely, when the weather improves enough to allow virtually all others to proceed, the number of aircraft vying for the intended airport is reduced by those who were already able to land, ultimately reducing the pent up demand and lessening the anticipated delays for everyone else. This in my opinion is a win win, since the best equipped are better served in that they can land in very poor weather, the remaining fleet members are not losers because they didn’t equip or train their crews and subsequently couldn’t effect a CATIII approach, but are the recipients of the benefits that others decided was in their best interest to adopt. If we look at another scenario where there are opportunities to increase capacity by affording the use of other than the primary landing runway by using RNP, only those equipped may be eligible to fly to the non service runway, but again, all others would be recipients of the reduced demand on the primary runway, because the “best equipped” reduced the demand there. This is often the case when weather conditions may allow for a more precise approach to a point where these “Best Equipped” can make visual contact with other traffic and utilize airspace that isn’t as restrictive as what may have previously been the case.
A fairly quick analysis of those airports that could benefit from this sort of activity would set the stage for a move toward proving how valuable and viable this technology is. Sure, there are always devil in the details to consider, not the least of which is getting the controller workforce involved, engaged, and aware of what this sort of change means to them. We do have sufficient information on hand currently to begin this sort of effort, and we need to get the collaboration in high gear if we have any hope of realizing the benefits we all believe are presently within our reach. Each time we achieve a measure of success, regardless of how big a deal it may be, we build a better foundation for the future. There are ample opportunities to gain capacity increases, by exploiting “Best Equipped” without the negatives suggesting winners and losers. Better equipped aircraft equals better service for the entire industry, not just those who make the leap. When I think back about how it was in the tower working the clearance delivery position, before we had PDC, and more, everything was on radio, with read backs, errors, etc. Frequency congestion alone was sufficient to render the wait just to get a clearance untenable. Now with electronic messaging the reduction in workload and wait times is considerably minimized. When you consider “Data Comm” as another immerging NextGen technology, there will, as before, be those who gain by its use, but everyone else will too. Today we have traffic stops due to frequency congestion both on the ground and in the air. “Data Comm” should play a major role in reducing the problem, ultimately translating to capacity and efficiency gains.
Let’s stop with the notion that if you are better equipped than the next guy, only you will be afforded better service and or system access, in fact, with very few exceptions, everyone will benefit, as it should be. NextGen should be the tide that rises all users.