Lean Machine

In 2010, as the fruits of its NextGen programme were taking shape, the FAA reached an interesting quandary in the development of instrument flight procedures (IFPs) that operators use to take off and land, writes Focus FAA.

Even as the agency’s transformation to NextGen promises to make operators’ routeing safer, faster, and more efficient, ineffectiveness and manual processes used in the development of these IFPs could hold up progress.

“The current IFP development and implementation process is actually a bundle of interconnected, overlapping, and sometimes competing processes,” reads the final report the agency put together back in September 2010.

Or, as Bridgitt Arledge, a support manager at the Seattle Centre, said in her IdeaHub submission #8441, “The current process for creating or modifying published aeronautical information on STARs/SIDs/SIAPs/Waypoints/Fixes is a paperwork nightmare … Numerous times errors have been made because of miscommunication and there’s not a common record keeping system in one place to keep everything straight.

“The process,” she said, “is lengthy, frustrating, and cumbersome. It’s something that should be fairly simple in today’s computer based environment.”

Conflicts

Issues resulting from conflicting databases and manual input of data were highlighted with the introduction of performance-based navigation procedures that are the bulwark of NextGen. Conflicting data and growing numbers of requested procedures are overwhelming the current IFP development process, resulting in longer development times.

There have been requests for nearly 3,000 new IFPs and more than 12,000 amendments to IFPs since 2010. Officials in Air Traffic Operations (ATO) and Aviation Safety (AVS), in response to an RTCA Report (Task Force 5) three years ago, set about to rectify the problem. They were further motivated by the breadth of activity associated with IFPs across lines of business.

In addition to ATO and AVS, Mission Support Services, NextGen, Finance and Management, Airports, Environment and Energy, and Information Technology each have a stake in IFP development, so a streamlined approach taking into account each party’s responsibility was clearly necessary. Their solution is the NAV Lean Programme, which is showing strong progress in streamlining the process to develop, implement, and amend IFPs.

As Tony Jenkins, NAV Lean programme manager, said in a reply to Arledge: “NAV Lean should resolve many of your concerns and observations by streamlining the approach to IFP development in the NAS. With full implementation of all recommendations by the programme completion deadline of 2015, it is anticipated that there will be a significant reduction in the time it takes to design and develop IFPs.”

“NAV Lean is an important proponent in helping ease the burden of budget constraints typically associated with tight financial times,” said Teri Bristol, deputy chief operating officer of the ATO. “The reduction in time required to develop IFPs will allow others a more organized and efficient process, allowing for the allocation of previously used resources to be better assigned to other areas.”

Streamline

For example, an early success of NAV Lean is the implementation of a streamlined process for amending IFPs related to area navigation for standard terminal arrivals that now takes 80 days, compared to the 174 days for one portion of the process before the NAV Lean effort. The Air Traffic Organization and the Office of Airports just signed an agreement detailing the stewardship of certain types of data used in the IFP process.

It might seem a small step, but it’s an important one in breaking down the information silos that have slowed the process. It also demonstrates the level of collaboration and leadership support necessary for continued success.

New guidance has focused environmental assessments to save processing time. Interim guidance has been developed to address safety aspects of NextGen-related IFPs before the deployment of a future standardized safety management system.

Foundation

Quality data is the foundation for any process. One of the biggest hurdles is consolidation of approximately 26 different databases currently housing IFP data into what’s called authoritative sources and then using automation to transfer this data, removing manual processes.

John Hickey, deputy associate administrator for aviation safety, noted that NAV Lean eliminates the need to maintain “numerous costly databases that are obsolete and redundant while significantly increasing the efficiency of inserting and accessing data.”

Jenkins agreed.”That’s the heavy lifting. That’s the area that’s going to take care of all the underlying data that supports the implementation of flight procedures. We’re trying to bring all of those disparate databases together to create quality data with the proper ownership.”

The environmental community has also realized early benefits through published guidance on preparing focused, concise, and timely environmental assessments, saving processing time for some IFPs. In the process, said Jenkins, come some intangible benefits.

“NAV Lean is a seed,” Jenkins said. “The NAV Lean programme is a very positive example of a high level of cooperation across lines of business toward a single goal. That’s one of the hardest things to do in this agency. NAV Lean is just a seed to start that arduous step.”

“NAV Lean has a significant, yet somewhat hidden, benefit to the FAA through the extraordinary sense of cooperation it has fostered between lines of business,” said Hickey.

Posted in Features, Navigation, NextGen, Operations

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