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.
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 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?
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.
Ever since I can remember, when it comes to measuring the performance of the nation’s air transportation system, the aviation community has focused on safety, capacity, and delays. These have been the primary yardsticks of performance. The legislation that created the FAA cites safety and efficiency as its primary mission, but efficiency is difficult to measure, so efficiency was translated into capacity. It turns out that capacity is hard to deal with as well, so delays became the surrogate for efficiency and capacity. Even important parameters like fuel, crew and equipment costs largely were measured based on impacts due to delays.
NextGen suffers from an inability to clearly and simply articulate what it will do for everyday Americans. Recent media coverage seems to focus on the price tag of NextGen and an unclear picture of its benefits. The problem of explaining what NextGen will do is exacerbated by the fact that the nation’s air transportation system is quite complex. The operational processes and technologies are particularly complex. The community is large, so any one particular viewpoint tends to be limited, like looking at a house through just one of its windows.
Coming off several months of studying volcanic disruptions to aviation, I come away with sobering observations about the way we as an aviation community go about solving real world problems, or the way we don’t solve them as the case may be. Continue reading
The recent news about the first third party approval of a Required Navigation Performance (RNP) procedure at Bradley Field in Hartford, CT, makes it clear to me that Performance-based Navigation (PBN) is likely to take off in a big way. The huge demand for these procedures and the low rate at which the FAA had been able to produce them led to the idea of third party providers. Last year the FAA approved Naverus and Jeppesen as third party providers of RNP approach procedures. Continue reading
I just returned from the Atlantic Conference on Eyjafjallajökull and Aviation held in Keflavik, Iceland. It was organized by the Keilir Aviation Academy with sponsorship from ICAO and IATA. As far as I can tell, it’s the first time in recent history that an interdisciplinary meeting has been held on the topic of volcanic disruptions to aviation. There were volcanologists, meteorologists, airlines, air traffic navigation service providers, airports, the military, government regulators, safety people, operations people, policy folks, all under the same roof for the first time. Interesting things happen when you begin sharing each other’s diverse viewpoints. Continue reading