NextGen threatened by drastic cuts: Huerta

Looming federal tax cuts – or sequestration – could have a potentially devastating effect on NextGen, according to the US aviation chief charged with implementing the modernisation of the nation’s air traffic control.

Speaking in Washington DC at the Supplier Management Council of the Aerospace Industries Association, acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Michael Huerta told delegates he understood that the threat to the agency’s $15.2 billion  budget for 2013 was weighing heavily on the minds of the aerospace supply chain.

“If the sequester were to occur, we would face some very drastic cuts in services and these investments,” he confirmed. “These cuts would impact air traffic control services, NextGen implementation, and aircraft certification, all of which are critical to our ability to move forward with aviation in this century.”

“They would result in significantly less efficient and less convenient air travel service for the American travelling public. We will always, however, maintain the highest levels of safety.”

This echoes comments made at a US Congressional hearing held earlier this summer  to review the FAA’s Contract Tower programme when the chief operating office of the Air Traffic Organization David Grizzle was grilled on the likely impact of the budget cuts.

“We have received no specific direction as to the impact of sequestration on the FAA. We have done a great deal of internal planning looking at different scenarios and how we would be required to shift our priorities in the event that different sequestration scenarios came into place,” he told the hearing.

“We have not begun sharing those with anyone because we are not far enough along in designing those priorities. But suffice it to say that it would require a significant re-prioritisation of what we currently do. It could be a large impact, we just don’t know. We are in communication with various parts of the Administration and our perceptions are developing.”

Even though the US aviation industry is facing a challenging budget climate, Huerta told the AIA delegates that the FAA remains committed to modernising the airspace system.

“I’ve made it a priority to step up our collaboration with our stakeholders externally to increase the focus on NextGen and to bring benefits to the travelling public now,” he said.

He said the FAA had a long history of engaging with industry to develop consensus around policy, programmes and regulatory decisions and that the agency valued advice from the Joint Planning and Development Office, which handles interagency coordination and long-term planning for NextGen as well as from experts at the Institute Management Council, which oversees the NextGen Institute.

“We have worked closely with industry partners, such as RTCA, and have incorporated important advice from that organisation in our NextGen planning.  We’ve also established a broad-based panel – the NextGen Advisory Committee—to provide guidance and recommendations to us on how to equip for NextGen and how to measure our success,” Huerta said. “And as always, we work with airlines that are enthusiastic about our pilot programmes and help us to gain valuable NextGen data.”

Illustrating examples of FAA partnerships for NextGen Huerta highlighted efforts in Seattle, Washington, as part of the Greener Skies initiative, where the FAA is partnering with Alaska Airlines, the Port of Seattle and the Boeing Company.

In addition, the FAA chief confirmed that the agency will begin Data Communications trials this autumn to test the departure clearances for aircraft in text form with the goal to verify and validate air and ground concepts of operations, requirements, training, and human factors.

“Our first trial site will be Memphis, where we’ll partner with FedEx. Subsequently, we’ll work with United Airlines at Newark Liberty International followed by a trial with Delta Air Lines at Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta.”

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