The House aviation subcommittee seems a bit skeptical about the FAA's air traffic control modernization plans. During an Oct. 17 hearing, committee members questioned the agency's ability to keep tabs on the new ADS-B contractor. (ADS-B is considered the backbone of the NextGen ATC modernization program.)
And they lambasted the administration for misleading the public that NextGen and ADS-B were an immediate solution to airline delays and that a new funding system was necessary to pay for it.
"I think that the American public has been led to believe that the silver-bullet solution for gridlock is a new satellite-based surveillance system," said aviation subcommittee Chairman Jerry Costello (D-Ill.). "The truth is, ADS-B will probably not provide significant tangible nationwide benefits for several more years, and then only in conjunction with other NextGen technologies that are years away from implementation.
"It is time for the rhetoric to stop and for this administration to start explaining all the 'ifs' and 'whens' about ADS-B and the NextGen system," admonished Costello.
Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the full Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said that the administration's "aggressive messaging of its financing proposal" had led the public to believe that NextGen was the cure-all for this year's unprecedented airline delays.
"It is time to stop the salesmanship and to start a serious exploration of what ADS-B and other NextGen programs are likely to provide and when," said Oberstar.
And the FAA must keep a tight rein on its ADS-B contractor.
(On August 30, the agency awarded a contract to ITT Corp. to build and operate the ADS-B ground infrastructure and supply aircraft position data to the FAA. One month later, the FAA issued proposed rules that would require all aircraft to add ADS-B equipment by 2020 to be able to fly within Class B and C airspace and above 10,000 feet.)
"Given FAA's history with developing new technologies and its approach for ADS-B, we believe that an extraordinary level of oversight will be required," said Department of Transportation Inspector General Calvin Scovell.
"Strong oversight, both internally at the FAA and here in Congress will be critical to the success of the transition to the new system," said aviation subcommittee ranking member Thomas Petri (R-Wisc.). "Input from national airspace system users will be very important. After all, what good is a national airspace surveillance system if it fails to serve the users' needs."
"I want to be sure that every component of aviation, including AOPA," sees and cooperates in this system, which can provide "a tremendous boost in safety and convenience," said Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.).
But Costello noted that the FAA has yet to demonstrate that ADS-B can fulfill the promises of decreased traffic separation and greater "throughput." "The FAA first needs to demonstrate that ADS-B performs as well as our current radar-based system before these capabilities can seriously be considered," he said.
Finally, some members of Congress expressed concern about putting so much responsibility for air traffic safety in the hands of private industry. Under ADS-B, everything a controller knows about aircraft positions would come from the contractor-operated system.