President Bush has issued an executive order in support of efforts to modernize the nation’s air traffic control system and reduce air traffic congestion through the Next Generation Air Transportation System, commonly called NextGen. It is unclear what the order, or the NextGen program, will really mean for aviation.
The executive order, issued Nov. 18, requires the secretary of transportation to create an advisory committee within the next 180 days and to meet quarterly with an existing policy committee on NextGen issues. The order also directs the departments of Commerce, Defense, and Homeland Security, as well as NASA, to assist the Department of Transportation’s NextGen efforts as appropriate.
But the new executive order may be short lived. The incoming Obama administration can be expected to review all executive orders and may rescind or replace them at its discretion. In addition, even industry insiders are not entirely clear what NextGen entails, as several of them explained during AOPA Expo earlier this month.
“General aviation pilots have always been quick to adopt new technologies when they provide tangible benefits at reasonable cost, as evidenced by the rapid, voluntary adoption of GPS,” said AOPA President Phil Boyer. “AOPA is positioned to work with the incoming administration to define what NextGen really means and determine how to implement it in a way that delivers real benefits to GA.”
Regardless of the specifics, NextGen will likely represent a combination of equipment and integrated information management that will allow better coordination between pilots and air traffic managers to facilitate more efficient use of airspace and ultimately ease congestion. The core technology will be satellite-based navigation, including GPS and GPS WAAS. Just last week the FAA announced that U.S. airports now host more GPS WAAS approaches than ILS approaches. Another key component of NextGen will be ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast), which can provide precise aircraft position, altitude, speed, and intent information to other aircraft in the air as well as controllers on the ground.
The FAA has said that it needs radical funding reform to pay for NextGen, but it is unclear exactly how much money will be needed or how it will be used. Equally unclear is what costs and benefits will accrue to general aviation pilots and operators.