Sample Business Studies Paper on NextGen Air Transportation System

INTRODUCTION

The Next Generation Air Transportation System is the new National Airspace System that is set to be implemented in the U.S. between 2012 and 2025. America’s air transport system is set to be changed from a ground based air traffic control system to a satellite based system. This promises to enhance the efficiency in the aviation industry by reducing traffic delays, shorten flight routes, increase the aviation industry capacity, save considerable amount of fuel and time and also enable controllers to manage and monitor aircrafts with greater safety margins.  The NextGen Air Transportation System is essentially a general transformation of the American Airspace, workforce, equipment, services, procedures, etc. that allow for air transportation in the US.

The Next Generation will enable aircrafts to take more direct routes as well as fly closer together and reduce and avoid delays at the airport. Some of the highlights of the Next Gen air transportation system is that dispatchers and pilots will now be able to choose their own flight path. They currently use a grid-like air highway system. The NextGen air transportation system will reduce amount of fuel consumed by the aviation industry by 1.4 billion gallons while consequently saving $23 billion in the general costs incurred in the American aviation industry. The system will provide a lot more information to ground control operators and this will enable planes to land faster and they will be able to navigate through weather much more safely while also significantly reducing taxi times so that the general aviation industry is run more efficiently.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is to oversee the implementation process, keenly undertaking significant transformations of the US air transportation system, by significantly reducing gridlock in both the airports and the sky. The FAA established the NextGen Advisory Committee that would help in the implantation of the NextGen air transportation system. The committee sought collaboration from the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics to consequently participate in the implementation. Other participants engaged in the implementation process include NASA, Stanford university, Lockheed Martin, The Boeing Company, GARMIN International, Air Line Pilots Association and Rockwell Collins.

So far, significantly positive results have been obtained from the various fields where the NextGen air transport system has been implemented. A demonstration was carried out at Dallas at the Fort Worth International Airport of the new surveillance system called the Tower Flight Data Manager. The surveillance display would present flight data, airport configuration, and surveillance as well as other critical information that would be relevant to controllers. In Dallas, a surface management system was implemented and it subsequently led to fuel efficiency saving amounting to a reduction in 5,100 gallons of aviation fuel and it also reduced the amounts of carbon dioxide emitted by 50 tons. At the JFK airport , a shared surface surveillance system that effectively combines with aircraft metering techniques resulted in reduced taxi-out time by 7,000 hours annually at the airport and at Memphis taxi-out time reduced by 5,000 hours annually.

The NextGen Air Transport System essentially comprises of 4 segments:

  1. NextGen Data Communications.

The data communications system will initially provide additional means of undertaking two-way communications for instructions, flight crew reports and requests, and traffic control clearances.  Aircraft data links will be more equipped and this will enable the effective exchange of controller-pilot messages and also clearances undertaken via the data links will enable the controllers to handle much more traffic.

  1. The National Airspace System Voice Switch

The new system will replace the more than 17 voice switching systems, some that have been in use for more than 20 years. The National Airspace System Voice Switch will replace these systems with one single air/ground and ground/ground voice communications system.

  1. Automatic dependent surveillance broadcast

The new system will use GPS satellite signals to enable flight controllers and pilots receive information that will ensure aviation safety in both the sky and the runways. Aircraft transponders will be able to receive and use GPS signals to determine the precise position of the aircraft in the sky. This will enable the air traffic controllers and pilots to see real-time air traffic display that will significantly improve safety in the aviation industry.

  1. Next Generation Network Enabled Weather.

This system is mainly affected to reduce the number of weather- related flight delays by half. Approximately 70% of flight delays in the American aviation industry are due to weather annually. Multiple global weather reports and observations and sensor reports from ground based, airborne and space based sources will combine to enable a single national weather information system that will provide general weather information for the national airspace system.

 

NextGen Air Transportation System implantation

The implementation of the NextGen Air Transportation system requires a balance between the integration of technology with the training and policy development across various air carriers across the country and the world, the airports and the FAA. There is need for new GPS-based systems for navigation to be installed in the aircrafts, as well as software and monitors required in FAA air traffic control facilities, new tracking systems. The Transport Department Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel disagreed with remarks made by FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta that the NextGen system was being delivered on time and on target. General Calvin noted that the expected completion time for the new system was 10 years with expected implementation costs amounting to three times the initial estimate of $40 billion. The General traced to problem to inadequate planning, a change-averse FAA culture and slow decision making. Funding was however noted to be the main challenge of implementing the NextGen Air control system.

The NextGen Air Transportation system was initiated in 2004 with the transition from ground-based radar system that was outdated to satellite-based GPS.  The deadline for the implementation of the NextGen air transportation system, 2015, seems increasingly hard to meet. This is despite the fact that there are a number of systems that are already in place. Key features of technology for the new system include the Standard Automation Replacement Systems that are an update of the equipment used by air traffic controllers. The technology was to be in place by the year 2017 at a total cost of $438 million, but the current schedule and overall costs are uncertain.

The En Route Automation Modernization System was to be done by the year 2010. It was intended to replace the software at a number of FAA centers across the US that primarily manage high-altitude air traffic and will be the main platform for the processing of flight data. The expected cost of the project was $2.1 billion, but the project deadline was pushed to 2014 where additional costs of $330 million were incurred.

Currently, more research is being carried out on a number of issues pertaining to the NextGen Air Transport System that include:

  1. Precision Departure Release Capability

This system will reduce the likelihood of missing aircraft reservations by determining the idea time that your flight would begin its journey so that it does not miss its specific slot spot in many or all of the air traffic control bases.

  1. Trajectory Based Automation System

This system will help determine the most direct flight route and consequently reduce amount of fuel consumed and the flight durations. The system will also provide the pilots with information on the best routes available around weather patterns to avoid bad weather.

  1. Spot and Runway Departure Advisor

This system will greatly help in the determination of which planes should head to the runway, as well as which route they are to take so that the runway is efficient.

  1. Efficient Descent Advisor and 3D Path Arrival Management

This system will use 3D Path Arrival Management concepts as the air craft gets closer to the destination to determine the best time frame and place to begin the air craft’s descent. This will enable the air craft to descent smoothly while the engines are operating at their lowest capacity which will save on fuel and lower noise levels emanating from the air craft.

Challenges in the implantation and control of the NextGen Air Transport System

The difficulties faced by FAA in advancing NextGen stem from a number of issues such as:

  • Unresolved critical design issues
  • Lack of an executable plan

Initial FAA plans did not keenly consider the implementation costs or considering the technologies that would be required to advance the system. FAA’s very lengthy development procedure has been a root cause of delayed implementation of new flight routes and also has led to the absence of updated controller policies and procedures. The implementation of the NextGen Air Transport System also depends on successfully deploying new automated systems that air traffic controllers could use. There are also challenges in schedule risks, technical constraints and costs in FAA’s efforts to modernize automation systems at all terminal facilities because the FAA has not really identified all needed hardware and software requirements.

We shall now delve more deeply into the challenges faced by FAA in executing and implementing the NextGen System.

  1. Lack of an executable NextGen plan

The initial FFA target for the advancement of the NextGen air transport system was 2025. The expected cost was $40 billion. There has been a pretty significant lack of strategies for achieving a system that was capable of handling three times more air traffic while reducing the overall costs of the FAA. FAA weaknesses were exhibited as early as 2005 while providing the progress report of the project. The report did not address implementation costs, specify sequencing for airports and airspace , establish priorities or even provide details on the technologies needed or how and when they were going to be developed.

IN 2009, a internal study by the FAA indicated that FAA’s NextGen plans were not risk adjusted to enable the realistic reflection of the feasibility of the technology required as well as the affordability of the technology. The lack of a proper plan by the FAA could be attributed to a lack of firm requirements for the most critical capabilities of the NextGen.  The requirement’s continued to evolve; especially the communication equipment and the decision makers were not receiving updates on such developments.

  1. Failure to resolve key design issues that will shape the requirements, timing and costs of the NextGen

The key unresolved design issues that will determine NextGen’s capabilities include:

  • Facility requirements

The FAA just recently decided on the number and locations of air traffic facilities needed to support the Next Generation air transport system. In July 2012, recommendations were made for the FAA to develop comprehensive and regularly updated cost estimates for the FAA efforts to realign and consolidate the Nation’s air traffic control network to a centralized position.

  • Air/ground Division of responsibility

FAA has not decided on how much responsibility will be afforded to pilots on trafficking aircraft also considering the duties that will remain with the air traffic controllers and all ground systems.

  • Level of Automation

FAA has not provided any comprehensive report on the level of human development required in `air traffic management and separating aircraft. This is a key component in establishing the technical requirements of the Next Generation air transport system.

  1. FAA’s Organizational culture and frequent changes in the leadership

The FAA organizational culture has been slacking in the advancement of the NextGen air transportation system. A study conducted in 2010-2011 that was referred to as the Monitor Study evidenced that the FAA’s culture was inherently resistant to the level of significant change or alterations that were required to affectively achieve the NextGen priorities and there was a general lack of urgency in the agency. The FAA was found to be highly tactical and operational, while also being a risk-averse and safety-oriented organization that is reluctant to the adoption of new strategies. FAA has been noted to place a great amount of emphasis on day-to-day operations rather than the more essential policy driven and strategic change over the course of time.

FAA has place a great amount of reliance on outside technologies and has consequently not leveraged on the work of other US departments. Inconsistent leadership and organizational instability have also been key in the underperformance of the FAA in the advancement of the NextGen air transport system. This is clearly highlighted by the fact that since 2003. The FAA has had five administrators. Even more critical was the fact that from December 2013 until January 2013, there was no confirmed administrator of the FAA. Recently, the FAA’s current deputy administrator was appointed after a 4 month period when the position was vacant. Presently, the FAA has not yet filled a position a major NextGen position, the assistant administrator, which has been vacant since December 2012.

The high turnover in senior leadership positions has led to the lack of a common vision for the NextGen advancement.  FAA has undergone quite a number of reorganizations that were intended to allocate and assign accountability, responsibility and effective authority for NextGen. Recently, FAA reorganized and established a new Program Management Office that was intended to bridge the gap between NextGen’s program implementation and strategic requirements.

  1. Undefined NextGen Benefits

A major reason as to why NextGen was widely accepted was due to the support of key aviation stakeholders and particularly airspace users. They were in general agreement that they would purchase and undertake installation of the very expensive avionics in all of their aircrafts so as to achieve the NextGen capabilities. Without the general adoption of these advanced avionics such as DataComm and ADS-B, FAA would be unable to increase its capacity or even save fuel through he advanced NextGen systems. The FAA engages major industry stakeholders through forums such as RTCA and the NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC). So as to work out near and long term NextGen objectives. Despite such efforts by the FAA, there has been no clear consensus on NextGen priorities that will be beyond the near-term. FAA has not clearly provided a definition the benefits of the NextGen advancement that are to reduce delays, increase capacity and reducing the overall operational costs. The has led to increasing skepticism by air space users on the FAA’s ability to adequately deliver all the benefits and required technologies and therefore they have been reluctant to equip the expensive NextGen aviation technologies.

There have been breakdowns in previous FAA initiatives which have subsequently led to the airspace users to be reluctant in investing in the required technologies to adequately achieve the objectives of NextGen. The airspace users are concerned on the likelihood of discarding the new technologies. This situation played out recently where the FAA decided to abandon a similar but much smaller effort in the implementation of a controller-pilot data link communications program that was widely expected to play a crucial role in the enhancement of air capacity as well as reducing flight delays. The joint investment between the FAA and the industry in the proposed program in 2005 was adopted on a small scale although it was terminated because of incremental costs and technical problems.

The increasing user concerns and the absence of adequately defined NextGen benefits has triggered debates among the industry and the FAA on the necessity for equipage incentives such as loan guarantees and Government backed grants. In an effort of dealing with these problems, the FAA convened a taskforce, RTCA, in 2004 to help in the identification of the major obstacles the acceptance of NextGen to users. RTCA identified a number of overarching issues that guide FAA and the investment by industry participants and made a detailed account of recommendations on how to deal with them. Some of the recommendations include the assignment of responsibilities, authority and the financing within FAA which is fundamental to the achievement of all required tasks and NextGen benefits.

However, in 2012 recommendations were provided and the FAA quickly adopted them by incorporating them into the strategic plans of NextGen and also NextGen budgets and consequently led to the establishment of a mechanism that would enable industry collaboration. The FAA has done little so far in implementing the recommendations.

  1. Problems faced in the implementation of new performance-based navigation routes

This has greatly undermined all efforts to maximize near-time benefits and ensure airspace user support. The new performance –based navigation that includes Required Navigation performance  Area Navigation, are fundamental in achieving near-term objectives that include improved on-time aircraft arrival rates, more direct flights, reduced aircraft noise and more efficient fuel usage. However, the adoption of performance based procedures has been greatly impeded by a umber of obstacles that are yet to be resolved. Such obstacles include the absence of updated controller policies for using the performance based navigation and the very long and strenuous efforts to develop new flight procedures.

Despite the FAA implementing more than 100 Required Navigation Performance procedures currently in major airports, the expected benefits of the implantation of these procedures remain to been achieved  because major carriers and airports have not adequately adopted them. In 2012, MITRA was tasked by the FAA to provide an analysis of data that measures the adoption of PBN policies and procedures and quantify the benefits comprehensively. MITRE’s preliminary data showed that RNP adoption is quite high at small to medium sized airports, but the overall RNP usage is low.

A number of obstacles have FAA’s efforts to ensure that PBN procedures are used more widely. In a March 2012 study, a key obstacle identified was the absence of controller tools that would manage mixed operations. Other obstacles include were the absence of clear procedure design objectives as well as the absence of standard training for flight controllers and pilots and outdated controller procedures. The FAA is currently trying to streamline its implementation procedure so as to respond to calls for improvements from an internal review by the FAA, the NAV lean project. The FAA reported quite a significant number of problems with the process that include the absence of an expedited technique for approving policies and procedures that have been minorly amended and have been inconsistent in interpreting the essential environmental policies as well as inconsistencies in required data.

  1. Cost and Programmatic risks with NextGen’s automation systems

The FAA will not be able to maximize new PBN routes or undertake the implementation of NextGen technologies without necessarily requiring new automation platforms for controllers in en route airspace and terminal air space. FAA continues to face certain problems despite significant recent progress  that include technical problems, cost constraints as well as schedule risks affecting both FAA’s Terminal Automation Modernization. This program is developed to modernize all the automation systems that controllers adequately rely on in the management of traffic at major terminal facilities using a single automation platform called the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System. If the new program is implemented effectively it will reduce agency cost and ensure that it will facilitate the implantation of NextGen capabilities. Currently the program involves modernizing automation systems at about 11 terminal facilities, which include a significant number of the largest and busiest terminal facilities in the country. FAA estimated the costs of rolling out this initiative at $348 million and it is set to be completed between 2015-2017.

A report provided in May 2013 indicated that the FAA faced significant schedule, cost and technical risks in modernizing these facilities. FAA had yet to finalize all the required hardware and software requirements that were required to ensure the successful replacement of the existing automation system with STARS. To ensure that this was undertaken adequately, there is need for extensive software development and testing which is quite costly and lengthy. Presently, STARS capability at the terminals where it is used is still years away to achieving full capacity.

The next NextGen goal that the FAA intends to achieve is the successful deployment of ERAM, which is expected to cost $2.1 billion. ERAM is expected to process flight data at all en route locations and it is an essential program in ensuring that the FAA achieves some of the key benefits of NextGen’s transformational programs. Such programs include new data communications for pilots and controllers and new satellite based surveillance systems. The ERAM system was operationalized in 2014 at an incremental cost of $330 million on top of the $2.1 billion initial estimates.

There have been concerns by experts and controllers on ERAM’s capabilities. Some include:

  • Aircraft tracking and sensor fusion

This capability enables ERAM to fuse satellite based information and multiple radars for controllers. But so far controllers have been unable to track aircrafts accurately and consistently and the ERAM tracker will require several adjustments so as to use radar and ADS-B together in the management of air traffic.

  • Flight Plan trajectory modeler

This capability enables aircraft flight paths to be modeled so as to predict the likelihood of aircraft collision and also provide accurate and efficient between controllers and pilots who are in transit ti airspace that is controlled by another terminal facility. The Modeler software has however required significant adjustments in the alteration of flight plan trajectory and ensure accurate and efficient communication.

Conclusion

The advancement of Next generation air transportation system is a necessary and critical development that promises to greatly improve air transport in the ever expanding need for air transport. As global interactions continue to increase, a more effective system is required to expand the capacity of the aviation industry. NextGen is intended to do just that. The more efficient utilization of air space will reduce all risks pertinent to air travel while also enabling the development of new air crafts that will work more effectively and efficiently under the new system.

The role of the FAA in advancing this system is crucial and the agency is charged with providing the path to the implementation of the new system. A project of this scope was bound to face numerous challenges ranging from funding, to technical aspects and also the need for evolved organization systems that would adequately make use of the NextGen system. The keen consideration of these challenges should be undertaken by all aviation industry stakeholders, so as to achieve greater support for the system while also inculcating the input of all relevant participants to the fulfillment of the objectives of the NextGen system. The system is a necessary undertaking that will involve cutting edge technologies and new policies and procedures will be effected and there many conflicts are bound to arise between all the stakeholders in the aviation industry.

The FAA should develop an appropriate and executable plan with detailed account of all requirements while also dealing with critical design concerns. The plan should also keenly consider the underlying causes that have led to delays in the implementation of NextGen. The recent reorganization undertaken by FAA is a step towards the right direction and will be essential in enhancing the management and direction of all efforts directed at the advancement of NextGen in a more general sense. However, it will be good leadership that will be the key factor in the full adoption of the Next generation Air Transport System.