Aviation task force examines NextGen strategy

February 10, 2009

As the implementation strategy for NextGen—the modernized air traffic control system—starts to take shape, AOPA is heavily involved to ensure general aviation pilots’ needs are met.

The association has joined a task force of industry leaders to study the FAA’s NextGen implementation plan. The group was created by RTCA, a not-for-profit corporation that develops consensus-based recommendations for the aviation industry. AOPA President Craig Fuller currently represents pilots and aircraft owners as an RTCA board member.

According to the FAA’s plan, NextGen will be phased in over two decades while the ATC system is switched from ground- to satellite-based navigation. Automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) will become the backbone of the new system, and GPS/WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) approaches will become more prevalent. Both are intended to reduce the limitations imposed by ground-based navigation and increase the National Airspace System’s safety, efficiency, and capacity.

The task force will begin analyzing the FAA’s mid-term (or 10 year) NextGen implementation plan. The plan includes good news for GA pilots: adding precision approaches at thousands of rural airports and upgrading ATC services at small facilities. But there are also some early warning flags. The plan suggests transitioning from a first-come, first-served basis to a best-equipped, first-served basis.

“The FAA’s plan contains some controversial proposals, so it is critical that the task force comes to a consensus on what is best for the aviation industry as a whole without excluding any one segment,” said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs. “As part of the task force, AOPA will make sure GA pilots aren’t forced to the back seat. This new system must be accessible and affordable for all pilots.”

AOPA began advocating for a satellite-based ATC system in 1990. Even though AOPA faced tough criticism at the time, the association did not give up, and now the industry embraces the idea.