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.
The Reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration was finally completed the end of January. While much has been said about the Reauthorization, not much has been said about its adequacy.
As we reflect on where we are and ponder resolutions for the coming year, I think of NextGen and some of the subtle, but significant, experiences of the past year. The NextGen we need requires change. Yet, we know change does not come easily. In fact, I have seen a recurring resistance to change.
A quick look back at 2011 reveals lots of activity, some real good, some not so good. I feel compelled to reflect ever so briefly on one of the major happenings towards the end of the year. It was the resignation of Randy Babbitt as Administrator of the FAA. Clearly this took all of us by surprise, and to be sure it was a sad event by all accounts. I believe that many of us could find it in our hearts to forgive most people of a DUI offense, especially if there was no damage done except to the offender. Alas there is zero tolerance for this sort of thing, especially for the Administrator of the FAA. So his departure was a forgone conclusion.
On a recent vacation to Germany, we found ourselves spending a considerable amount of time on the autobahn. Over the years, I have marveled at the interesting differences in cultures, values, thinking patterns, and design. We both have the same problem at hand. A lot of people want to go from point A to point B. We want to allow them to move as quickly, safely, and efficiently as possible. Yet, for some reason, we’ve come up with approaches that seem to be totally different.
For a long time now the talk among most people in the industry I’ve come in contact with has been about globalization, harmony, no borders, blending NextGen with SESAR, in terms of technology, procedures and timing. I believe this is all good stuff, and frankly the right way to go as the world becomes smaller and air travel becomes more affordable and more widely available to so many, especially in developing nations. Recently, I spent time at the US-China Aviation Summit, and clearly that message was foremost on nearly everyone’s agenda. Sure there was lots of talk about their needs as they prepare their country for 4-60 more airports in the next 20 years, and their need for technology and infrastructure, airplanes, crews, and the list goes on, almost limitless. These folks and others who are beginning to see the wisdom in creating and maximizing their aviation industries, are poised to garner every kind of assistance available, whether in terms of experience, or products. There are partnerships all over the world where employment opportunity is available for companies not necessarily headquartered there or not. While I don’t have specific figures, it’s fair to say that even in China, many big and small American companies employ Chinese workers. I suspect this is a solid and rewarding business decision by those long entrenched or by those trying to break into a burgeoning market. I recall the difficulty we at Metron Aviation faced when trying to garner some of the SESAR work early on, and were pretty much told that unless we had a footprint in Europe, it wasn’t likely that we might enjoy some of the business opportunities over there. Yet, there were and continue to be rather large American companies deeply involved in SESAR as the “globalization” rationale continues to be the back beat of the industry’s music. We spend countless hours talking and acting in “collaboration” all around the world, believing that this is the right way to effect change and build the best products and procedures. We include elements from every part of the industry, especially as we move ahead in operational terms. Seeing air traffic controllers, dispatchers, and meteorological types, along with traffic managers, pilots, and airport operators, just to name a nominal group, explore and execute system improvements is very satisfying indeed. It wasn’t that long ago when I was an air traffic controller, that I made decisions for the airlines. I decided who could takeoff and land, with no idea as to the impact to an airlines business model. As we embraced collaborative decision making (CDM), I found it an eye opener and moved to re-establish my role as someone who could afford a slot without necessarily determining who or what aircraft should fill it. Leaving this decision where it best belonged, to the operator. The foundation of Air Traffic Flow Management is now in collaboration, and rightly so. Through those early years of CDM, more and more was learned and shared among industry groups, resulting in a whole new way to conduct business. Putting every stakeholder in a position to both participate in a plans development and eager to execute it. The days of gaming each other were quickly on the decline, and there was a new vigor around how the system would perform.
For people in the US, it’s NextGen. For Europeans, it’s SESAR or Single European Sky. For the Japanese, it’s CARATS. These are the programs by which the air transportation systems of tomorrow will be developed—that is, for the US, Europe and Japan. So, what’s the rest of the world supposed to do?
I did not know quite to expect at this year’s Paris Air Show at Le Bourget. By many accounts, this is one of aviation’s top events, where large aircraft orders are announced and the latest advances in aviation technology are on display. Metron Aviation was part of the Alternative Aviation Fuels Showcase (http://www.alt.parisairshow.com/), a display featuring over a dozen alternative fuel producers and other organizations representing different parts of the supply chain. Collectively, we were not selling aircraft or maintenance services or any of the other traditional offerings at this kind of events. What we were demonstrating was that aviation alternative fuels have arrived.
As economies develop and our world becomes more interconnected, the need for air transportation increases. As aviation activity grows, so does its environmental footprint. The aviation industry has historically taken decisive action to reduce fuel consumption, noise, and other environmental impacts with great success. Recognizing that we need to continue pushing the envelope to minimize our environmental footprint as we grow, the industry has set ambitious goals to meet this responsibility. This is exemplified in the targets set by IATA for the coming decades:
- 1.5% average annual improvement in fuel efficiency between now and 2020
- Carbon-neutral growth by 2020
- 50% absolute reduction in aviation emissions by 2050 compared with 2005
A little over a year after the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, we have another eruption in Iceland causing air transportation disruptions in Europe. Grímsvötn erupted on May 21, but relatively briefly. Although ash emissions slowed after a couple of days, the ash plume was propelled above FL600. The ash clouds moved predominantly to the north and northeast. But, portions of the ash cloud traveled toward the British Isles and Scandinavia, and eventually to parts of Central Europe. As of this writing about 1200 flights have been canceled.