Time-saving trade-offs will limit NextGen

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) could speed up on NextGen efforts through improving how it goes about selecting new satellite-based navigation procedures and giving stakeholders all the necessary information on which to base investment decisions.

The findings were disclosed in a report by the US Department of Transportation Government Accountability Office (GAO) which examined the FAA’s pursuit of key operational improvements to implement NextGen between 2013 and 2018.

The GAO examined key operational improvements the FAA is pursuing through 2018, the extent to which the FAA is addressing known obstacles to the implementation of NextGen operational improvements, and the extent to which FAA is measuring and demonstrating midterm benefits.

The FAA’s mid-term efforts centre on establishing Performance Based Navigation (PBN) procedures at key airports, but the GAO said benefits to the national airspace benefits could be being limited.

“To deliver benefits more quickly, the FAA made trade-offs in selecting sites and in the scope of proposed improvements. For example, FAA is not implementing procedures that will trigger lengthy environmental reviews,” said government auditors in the report. “These trade-offs, with which airlines and other stakeholders generally agree, will likely limit benefits from these PBN initiatives early in the midterm.”

The report said that the FAA had made some progress in other key operational improvement areas, such as upgrading traffic management systems and revising standards to improve aircraft flow in congested airspace.

“However, the FAA has not fully integrated implementation of all of its operational improvement efforts at airports. Because of the interdependency of improvements, their limited integration could also limit benefits in the midterm.”

It said that the FAA has efforts under way to help overcome overarching obstacles to NextGen implementation identified by an advisory task force, but that many of these efforts are scheduled to take a number of years.

“FAA efforts include, for example, a new process for focused and concise environmental reviews for some proposed actions (e.g., new procedures), where a detailed analysis of the environmental impacts is limited to only those categories involving potentially significant impacts, such as increased noise or emissions. Some of these efforts do not, however, fully address previously identified obstacles,” the report concluded.

It pointed out that as a result the FAA has not fully addressed obstacles to selecting new PBN procedures that will best relieve congestion and improve efficiency.

“The FAA continues to rely on requests for new procedures from airlines and other stakeholders. This reliance may or may not result in procedures that maximize benefits to the national airspace system. Not addressing remaining challenges could delay NextGen implementation and limit potential benefits,” said the report authors.

In other areas, the report found that the FAA had made progress in developing NextGen performance metrics, but according to key stakeholders that the GAO interviewed, the FAA currently provides limited data to demonstrate its progress in implementing midterm improvements and the associated benefits.

“The FAA is in the process of harmonising performance metrics across all agency programmes to ensure that metrics align with agency targets and goals. However, information is incomplete on the midterm improvements and their benefits at selected airports, and airlines and others lack access to needed information to make fully informed investment decisions.

“FAA has developed a website to report on NextGen implementation, but published information is not fully tied to FAA’s implementation goals. FAA’s plans also provide limited information about future implementation, such as locations and expected benefits. Better performance and planning information would provide airlines with a stronger basis for making decisions to invest an estimated $6.6 billion on NextGen technology through 2018,” concluded the report.

Posted in CAAs/ANSPs, Navigation, News, NextGen

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