The general aviation industry is quick to modernize when the benefits are clear, keynote speaker AOPA President Phil Boyer said at a Next Generation Air Transportation System Institute public meeting in Washington, D.C., on June 21.
"GA has always embraced new technology and is frequently the innovator," Boyer told the group of industry officials charged with advising the government on NextGen, the air traffic control modernization program. Boyer represents the interests of general aviation as co-chair of the institute's management council (IMC) and as a member of the executive committee.
While Boyer and the other IMC co-chair, Jim May of the Air Transport Association, are opponents on the issue of FAA funding and user fees, both said that the airlines and GA were in agreement on the need to modernize the system through NextGen.
Boyer pointed out that GA quickly adopted GPS, long before the airlines equipped their aircraft with the technology. Today, 71 percent of instrument-rated GA pilots use GPS as their primary navigation system.
"Anyone who says we need to move to a satellite-based navigation system hasn't done much flying in a GA aircraft," Boyer said. "We're already there."
In fact, 88 percent of GA aircraft are GPS equipped, and nearly half have IFR-certified receivers. And GA pilots are willing to support future system modernization, as long as they get a safety, operational, or financial value from their investment in new equipment.
In a recent survey, the largest number of AOPA members said that what the FAA needed to improve the most was "ATC modernization." And nearly three-quarters of pilots surveyed said that they would be willing to invest in ADS-B equipment (which the FAA says is the "backbone" of the NextGen system) if they could get free weather and traffic information, and if the equipment were to cost about the same as a new transponder.
Boyer also pointed out that what GA needs from NextGen is different from other system users. One size won't fit all, he said. Some GA pilots will never need NextGen, others will use every bit of the system capability.
"We need to listen to all of the users and accommodate their needs in a cost-effective way," Boyer said.
He also spoke of the challenges facing the NextGen transition, not the least of which being the FAA funding debate. "The money is already there for NextGen, but the dispute over changing the aviation tax system is getting in the way of NextGen progress."
He also said that technology can frequently outpace the regulatory environment, noting that some pilots have turned to the private sector for in-cockpit weather, rather than waiting for the ADS-B system.
And finally, Boyer said that NextGen cannot begin to ease some of the system congestion problems unless the number of airports and runways grows.