NextGen Advisory Committee Targets Northeast Corridor 10.16.17
The NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC) and the FAA are focusing on air traffic management improvements in some of the busiest in the US: The Northeast Corridor (NEC), which spans from Boston to Washington, D.C. Now that the NAC has added the corridor to its list of modernization priorities, the region is an area of focus for the FAA’s air traffic improvement plans.
The NAC recommended in February 2017 that FAA improvements in the NEC be added to its list of top priorities. That list already included surface operations, multiple runway operations, Data Communications (Data Comm), and Performance Based Navigation (PBN).
“It is a challenge to make improvements in some of the busiest and most complex airspace in the world. Diverse stakeholders in the Northeast Corridor have varying interests, and we will continue to work with the stakeholders to form consensus,” said Pamela Gomez, an FAA technical advisor who works on stakeholder collaboration.
Representatives from more than 50 stakeholders met eight times in six months starting in February 2017 to identify the types of benefits to be targeted and how to measure achievements. They also scoped out implementation challenges, focusing on both near- and long-term initiatives.
The stakeholders included air carriers, airport authorities, air navigation agencies from Europe and Canada, representatives from the US Department of Defense, and a variety of aerospace companies—including those specializing in air traffic control, avionics, and aircraft manufacturing.
As a result, the NAC work group created a prioritized list of capabilities it believes will be the most beneficial.
Deconflicting New York airports.
• Improving individual airport throughput.
• Improving and integrating existing flow management capabilities.
• Improving airspace throughput.
• Implementing new flow management decision-support tools.
• Improving NAS information to achieve common situational awareness.
• Creating new noise abatement procedures.
The FAA and its partners are currently defining joint implementation commitments, including government and industry milestones, as each improvement requires action by both government and stakeholders. The FAA and industry will work closely on change management for any improvements in the Northeast which require buy-in from controllers, pilots, and dispatchers.
Previous NextGen efforts have achieved significant benefits in en route airspace along the NEC, as well as in some of the busiest terminal airspace in the world.
• Data Comm clearances for 7,500 flights per month at New York area airports.
• New automation to account for wake characteristics at eight airports.
• New optimized profile descents at Boston.
• Metroplex airspace redesign that smooths the flow of traffic from Atlanta and Charlotte into the Northeast.
• A new surface visualization tool at New York Center and at three TRACONS: New York, Boston, and Potomac in the Washington, D.C., area.
• FAA safety analysis of approaches in lower visibility at major airports:
¤ Philadelphia can now accept more flights per hour during some types of low visibility.
¤ This change in visibility requirements has been shown to save airlines millions of dollars per year at Boston Logan International Airport.
The FAA plans to build on these accomplishments in the NEC as it works with the NAC on its heightened interest in improvements in this region.
Panelists Play Nice in ATCA Annual Opening Session 10.16.17
At ATCA Annual’s opening general session, ATC: Be All That You Can Be, moderator David Grizzle of Dazzle Partners, LLC covered a lot of ground, such as diversity of NAS users, conflict management, and how NextGen is helping and/or hurting things.
Even though it’s no secret that NBAA, A4A, and AOPA publicly disagree on how best to modernize air traffic control (ATC), their representatives played nice at this morning’s panel.
“The way we collaborate on everything is so much better and less combative than it was 10 years ago,” said Melissa Rudinger of AOPA. “RTCA is a good task masker – they’re good at addressing priorities.”
Steve Brown of NBAA agreed: “We make sure we collaborate, and there’s very little conflict in that. Everyone understands what the bedrock principles are.”
“The forums where we collaborate are working really well,” added Sharon Pinkerton of A4A. “It’s informed by our long-term experience with the system.”
But the discussion inevitably turned to answering who should pay for modernizing air traffic control (ATC), a conversation that began with FAA Administrator Michael Huerta’s morning keynote address.
“New entrants are driving conversation about funding,” said Pinkerton.
Panelist Margaret Jenny agreed. It’s been one of the most interesting topics on the Drone Advisory Committee (DAC), she added, especially considering the wide array of stakeholders and perspectives that the committee brought together.
“I don’t know that you can separate the two. Governance and funding go hand in glove,” said Rudinger.
What would you have done differently in the last few years in how we approach NextGen, asked Grizzle?
“The way NextGen was rolled out and defined and expectations [were] laid out could have been done differently, but it was part of a result of a lack of collaboration,” said Pinkerton, citing the NextGen Advisory Committee’s (NAC) ability to bring government and industry together. “The FAA within its constraints has done a decent job, but it’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback.”
CGH Technologies’ Lincoln Schools Attendees on UAS Past Precedence 10.16.17
We often hear that the rise of drones is revolutionizing the aviation industry but that integrating them in the National Airspace System (NAS) is an impossible task. While that’s true, David Lincoln of CGH Technologies, in today’s “Bullets, Balloons, and Bounds” talk in the Aireon Arena theater on the Exhibit Hall floor, argued that we’ve been here before. In fact, he cited legal precedence to help answer what the future holds for UAS.
Lincoln’s presentation explored controlling early incursions, such as balloons, into airspace over private property. He went into detail on airspace ownership, sources of power, and airspace policy, how it applies to private property, and the lines between federal and state UAS regulation today.
Take for example United States v. Causby (1946), when a municipal airport near Greensboro, N.C., was leased to the military. Unfortunately, Thomas Lee Causby owned a chicken farm less than 800 yards from the end of the runway. The results were catastrophic for Causby’s business, as four large motored bombers would frequently pass a treetop level over his property, eventually ruining his chicken farm. Doesn’t this type of situation sound familiar? UAS has only made them more prevalent.
“It’s the exact same thing happening – it’s just a different subject,” said Lincoln. “We have to find some medium that works so we can safely integrate.”
It’s also important to not look too much into the past when formulating a path forward for UAS integration and federal versus state regulation.
“If every state had a say in how United or American handled their flight, we’d have a mess – you could not have an effective UAS program,” said Lincoln. “Many people are thinking of a 2D solution – a fixed line – but we but we need to think of it more three-dimensionally.”
The question remains: Where do we draw the line?
FAA Deputy Administrator: It’s All About Priorities 10.17.17
Funding (or lack thereof) has been a dominant theme at this year’s ATCA Annual. This morning’s Fireside Chat between FAA Deputy Administrator Dan Elwell and ATCA President and CEO Peter F. Dumont was no different. While the fire was fake, the conversation was anything but between the two industry veterans.
To put it into perspective, the FAA has gone 21 years without a full appropriation. To throw some salt in that wound, the agency has also had 40 continuing resolutions and 28 authorization extensions in the last 10 years.
“Try to imagine a corporation operating under that scenario,” said Elwell. “The FAA, in my opinion, has done a phenomenal job in dealing with that insanity.”
“We don’t really have a funding problem – we have $6 billion from the trust fund,” continued Elwell. The toughest part is management of funds and systems, he added.
Elwell, at a mere four months into the job, laid out his top priorities as deputy administrator: safety and NextGen (in that order). “Everything we do is colored through the prism of how we can do it safer.”
Of course, the topic of privatization/corporation (or whatever we’re calling it these days) came up. When talking about reform preferences, Elwell prefers “A transition that’s not locked on calendar dates but performance.”
“What we’d like to do is what NAV CANADA did. This isn’t about changing the physical infrastructure on day one – it’s about governance and funding and how you make changes to the system,” said Elwell. “The provision of ATS [air traffic services] is not that different from pilot services so it could be handled by a private entity.”
New Features Enhance SWIM’s Depth, Flexibility 10.17.17
With the System Wide Information Management (SWIM) infrastructure now in place, the FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) advanced technology program is able to enhance services and add more data producers and consumers.
SWIM turns an expanding array of National Airspace System (NAS) air traffic management data into useful information for aviation stakeholders, providing them with data on which to base operational decisions and implement many operational improvements.
In 2015, SWIM established a common infrastructure and connection points at all 20 en route traffic control centers, which control traffic at cruising altitude. Point-to-point interfaces were replaced with a modern, universally recognized data-exchange format through a single connection. A service-oriented architecture was established in 2016 and connected to FAA NAS programs, such as the system the FAA uses to manage traffic flows, to provide large data sources for consumers.
SWIM is composed of producers, consumers, and a registry. Producers, mostly FAA NAS programs such as the Traffic Flow Management System, publish data exchanged through the NAS Enterprise Messaging System (NEMS). Registered consumers, e.g., airlines or research institutions, can access more than 100 SWIM products, which are categorized as aeronautical, flight and traffic flow, and weather. The FAA and SWIM consumers interact through a registry where consumers can search services by criteria.
SWIM also attracts consumers who are interested in accessing the data. Eleven FAA NAS programs and six external organizations produce data sent via the SWIM network. Twelve internal NAS programs and 138 external organizations are registered to access the data, with another 300–400 potential consumers in various stages of becoming SWIM consumers.
The latest program segment is expected to improve SWIM in several ways.
NAS Common Reference (NCR) lets users pinpoint the NAS status and constraint information they need for operational awareness. It stitches together volumes of data from various places, filtering the data down to a timeframe and region of interest. NCR will provide benefits for users such as pilots and dispatchers, who will benefit from information specifically tailored to routes of flight they are considering.
Identity and Access Management capabilities reduce the chance of unauthorized handling of NAS assets and other intrusions while increasing the ability to detect cyber incidents. These capabilities authenticate and authorize consumers to ensure secure information-sharing with FAA partners.
Enterprise Service Monitoring provides an operations and maintenance status of NEMS infrastructure and SWIM services to assist the help desk in supporting producers and consumers. This monitoring tool enables consumers to speak with the SWIM help desk at network enterprise management centers in Atlanta and Salt Lake City and receive an immediate response about service disruptions.
Closing Time: So, What Does the Future Hold? 10.18.17
You know that moment just before you
solve a Rubik’s Cube? One minute the solution seems insurmountable, the
next effortless. I’ll admit, I’ve never conquered the famed 3D puzzle,
but you get the metaphor. Well, that’s how I view where industry is at
with ATC modernization. And if you thought the conversation at this
week’s ATCA Annual was more of the same, then you weren’t listening.
time to stop assuming that one be-all and end-all solution to ATC
modernization will suffice. Real progress and innovation won’t happen
until we as an industry break free of the confines of Pandora’s box.
That theme was reinforced repeatedly at today’s Aireon Arena concluding
free education session, “Blue Skies: Modernizing the NAS, Regardless of
Privatization.” It sought to answer what’s next after NextGen.
Gene Hayman of CACI agreed: “I think the conversation is starting to
evolve – it’s becoming more and more focused. There’s more than one
solution, and I believe we need to focus on a collective set of
solutions through two lenses: what does it look like with and without
Natesh Manikoth of the FAA insisted the agency
has been thinking and working towards a post-NextGen NAS. He suggests
that NAS Horizons might be a vehicle to get us there. The Interagency
Planning Office (IPO)-led project has partnered with NASA and begun
defining what is beyond NextGen by brainstorming concepts, technologies,
and strategies for 2045 and later.
Chris Metts of Harris
Corporation agreed that NAS Horizons has the potential of becoming that
innovative approach, but felt that having that crucial dialogue (that
occurs in so many sessions at ATCA Annual) is a major step towards
ending our industry’s “temporary stagnation.”
“It’s not just up to government – industry needs to assume some leadership in it too,” Metts added.
Dyment of NEXA Capital Partners, LLC agreed: “We really need to find a
new way of doing business. A more agile regulator is what [the panel] is
suggesting; otherwise, we’ll lose the industry. I think this industry
needs to take some leadership, and we’re not seeing that.”
and Metts think the answer lies with a greater reliance public-private
partnerships (PPP). Both were impressed with the FAA’s Pat McNall’s
thoughts in yesterday’s PPP breakout session. “It’s opening that mindset
to say there isn’t just one particular model,” said Metts.
believed an increased sharing of data, which many feel is the lynchpin
of ATC modernization, is a cultural change (who doesn’t know someone at
work who refuses to share responsibilities?). “Deep collaboration will
benefit the whole industry. The industry could do a lot more on its
The panel suggested it’s not early to examine lessons
learned from NextGen, even while it’s still being implemented. “It’s the
end of a phase, not the end of NextGen,” said panelist Gerald
Dillingham of the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), who’s been
analyzing ATC modernization for as long as he can remember. “We should
take lessons from this NextGen experience.”
“I’m pleased to
report that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Benefits [like
time savings] are now being derived for major players’ passengers,” he
This new way of thinking—for our industry, at
least—extends to UAS traffic management (UTM). UAS have been a major
driver of innovation for our industry, which over time, will influence
and help inform our change of mindset. One could argue that these types
of conversations at ATCA Annual confirm it’s already happening.
years from now at ATCA Annual, half the companies will be promoting
their UTM solutions,” predicted Dyment. “There are dozens of concepts of
operations floating around for UTM.”
So, what’s the answer for the future of the NAS? We still aren’t quite sure but I promise we’re getting there.
STARS Is Headed to a Terminal Facility Near You 10.18.17
The FAA is in the home stretch of deploying the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) to 156 terminal radar approach control (TRACON) facilities and 400 towers. STARS replaces several legacy flight-tracking platforms and, as the new common platform, upgrades these terminal facilities with foundational air traffic modernization technology.
The FAA’s Terminal Automation Modernization and Replacement (TAMR) team completed STARS deployment at the 11 biggest TRACONs in summer 2016, six months ahead of schedule. They include Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, Louisville, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York, Northern California, Potomac (Washington, D.C., area), St. Louis, and Southern California.
The goal is to complete deployment at the smaller facilities by December 2019. The agency has been deploying the latest version of STARS at new facilities and upgrading previous versions since 2012.
TAMR replaces 1980s-era analog flight-tracking systems at TRACONs and control towers with a fully digital system that supports essential air traffic management modernization technologies, including Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast (ADS-B). With these upgrades, air traffic controllers can work aircraft more safely on their new scopes, which are flat-panel LEDs that use STARS.
Controllers, technicians, engineers, and software developers work together at facilities to install, test, and orchestrate the overnight transitions from legacy systems to STARS. After a cutover, controllers can start directing aircraft using STARS right away—so it is imperative that the system work correctly. The shared goal of safety first for the NAS keeps everyone on the same page, with unions and FAA management all aiming for the smoothest transition possible.
STARS has new features that will make the system easier for controllers to use than the legacy systems it is replacing:
• Weather advisories.
• Assistance with terrain avoidance and conflict alerts.
• More precise tracking of aircraft using ADS-B.
• Improved traffic picture with flat-panel LED displays.
• Adjustable keyboard backlighting that improves visibility and makes data entry more efficient.
• A recall capability so that an individual controller’s complex controller workstation settings preferences are now saved for retrieval at the touch of a button.
• A highlight capability so a controller can assign a color to an aircraft to make it easier to follow.
• A minimum separation capability that enables a controller to select two aircraft and ensure the required separation will be maintained.
• A data block feature that automatically lists the number of aircraft in a formation — a function that used to be done manually.
• An infrastructure that is easier for technicians to maintain because the same system is being installed at all TRACONs