FAA: NextGen to guide you 'gate to gate'

February 28, 2011

With traditional technology, controllers could only clear two aircraft an hour into Steamboat Springs Airport in Colorado. But using the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) technology wide-area multilateration (WAM), capacity can reach 10 aircraft an hour, said Donna Taylor, manager of the FAA’s Airports Division, Northwest Mountain Region, in a NextGen panel discussion at the International Women in Aviation conference in Reno, Nev., Feb. 25.

The panel of FAA officials discussed how NextGen technologies—part of the switch from ground-based to satellite-based surveillance and navigation—will lead to safer and more efficient air travel “gate to gate.” While the discussion centered on how NextGen can improve travel for airline passengers, technologies such as WAM and Area Navigation (RNAV)/Required Navigation Performance (RNP) can provide increased access to airports for general aviation as well.

The multiple departure paths enabled by RNAV/RNP increases capacity at airports, and the accuracy of GPS allows aircraft to fly closer together without compromising safety, said panel moderator Amy Lind Corbett, regional administrator for the FAA's New England Region.

GPS allows pilots to have more accurate data in the cockpit, which helps prevent such dangers as controlled flight into terrain and near midair collisions, said Nancy Risso, manager of the Eastern Region Flight Standards Division NextGen Branch.

“That’s inherently safer,” she said. Other panelists included WAI President Peggy Chabrian; Teri Bristol, FAA vice president of Technical Operations Services; Corbett; and Taylor. Bristol explained that pilots equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast will have access to highly accurate traffic data that updates in real time and doesn’t degrade with distance or terrain. The FAA has published a rule requiring ADS-B transmitters in many types of airspace (ADS-B Out) in 2020, but there is no mandate for ADS-B In, which receives data and provides it to in-cockpit displays.

NextGen includes more than just the equipment in the cockpit. The FAA is deploying ground infrastructure for ADS-B, and technologies such as WAM require no equipage for pilots.

And the benefits aren’t only in the air, Taylor said. The FAA doesn’t want a “surface choke point” for the increased traffic enabled by NextGen, she said. Complicated taxi instructions can be transferred through data communications connections in NextGen, reducing the workload for pilots and controllers alike. In addition, the increased accuracy of GPS may enable airports to safely reduce the spacing between parallel runways, and better surface management has reduced taxi times by two to four minutes in some tests at commercial airports, she said.

The biggest challenge in implementing NextGen, Risso said, is economic. The FAA has no stable funding structure, and airlines also have financial constraints, she explained. Air transportation will be more efficient when everyone has the equipment, she said.

“We’re all in this together. It’s a collaborative effort. NextGen doesn’t work unless everybody plays.”