Next Generation Air Transportation System
The Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) is the name given to a new National Airspace System due for implementation across the United States in stages between 2012 and 2025. The Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) proposes to transform America’s air traffic control system from an aging ground-based system to a satellite-based system. GPS technology will be used to shorten routes, save time and fuel, reduce traffic delays, increase capacity, and permit controllers to monitor and manage aircraft with greater safety margins. Planes will be able to fly closer together, take more direct routes and avoid delays caused by airport “stacking” as planes wait for an open runway. To implement this the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will undertake a wide-ranging transformation of the entire United States air transportation system. This transformation has the aim of reducing gridlock, both in the sky and at the airports. In 2003, The United States Congress established the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) to plan and coordinate the development of the Next Generation Air Transportation System.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates that increasing congestion in the air transportation system of the United States, if unaddressed, would cost the American economy $22 billion annually in lost economic activity by 2022. It also estimates that by 2018, NextGen will reduce aviation fuel consumption by 1.4 billion gallons, reduce emissions by 14 million tons and save $23 billion in costs. Each mile in the air costs an airline about $0.10-$0.15 per seat in operating expenses like flight crew and fuel. Flying directly from one airport to the next and reducing congestion around airports can reduce the time and miles spent in the air for the same trip.
Once implemented, NextGen will allow pilots and dispatchers to select their own direct flight path, rather than using a grid-like highway system. By 2020, aircraft are expected to be equipped to tell pilots exactly what their location is in relation to other aircraft, enabling planes to fly closer together safely. By providing more information to ground control and planes, planes are expected to land faster, navigate through weather better and reduce taxi times so flights and airports themselves can run more efficiently. The increased scope, volume and distribution of information is intended to help planes land faster, improve weather forecasts, automation and information sharing, as well as reduce taxi times.
NextGen consists of five elements:
- Automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B). ADS-B will use Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite signals to provide air traffic controllers and pilots with much more accurate information that will help to keep aircraft safely separated in the sky and on runways. Aircraft transponders receive GPS signals and use them to determine the aircraft's precise position in the sky. These and other data are then broadcast to other aircraft and air traffic control. Once fully established, both pilots and air traffic controllers will, for the first time, see the same real-time display of air traffic, substantially improving safety. The FAA will mandate the avionics necessary for implementing ADS-B.
- Next Generation Data Communications. Current communications between aircrew and air traffic control, and between air traffic controllers, are largely realised through voice communications. Initially, the introduction of data communications will provide an additional means of two-way communication for air traffic control clearances, instructions, advisories, flight crew requests and reports. With the majority of aircraft data link equipped, the exchange of routine controller-pilot messages and clearances via data link will enable controllers to handle more traffic. This will improve air traffic controller productivity, enhancing capacity and safety.
- Next Generation Network Enabled Weather (NNEW). Seventy percent of NAS delays are attributed to weather every year. The goal of NNEW is to cut weather-related delays at least in half. Tens of thousands of global weather observations and sensor reports from ground-, airborne- and space-based sources will fuse into a single national weather information system, updated in real time. NNEW will provide a common weather picture across the national airspace system, and enable better air transportation decision making.
- System Wide Information Management (SWIM). SWIM will provide a single infrastructure and information management system to deliver data to many users and applications. By reducing the number and types of interfaces and systems, SWIM will reduce data redundancy and better facilitate multi-user information sharing. SWIM will also enable new modes of decision making as information is more easily accessed.
- NAS voice switch (NVS). There are currently seventeen different voice switching systems in the NAS, some in use for more than twenty years. NVS will replace these systems with a single air/ground and ground/ground voice communications system.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is pursuing a NextGen implementation plan and has established a NextGen Advisory Committee to aid in that implementation. In 2009, the advisory committee began a collaboration with the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA) Task Force, a joint government and industry group, to participate in the effort. Besides the FAA, the RTCA Task Force membership includes the Air Line Pilots Association, Air Transport Association of America, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, The Boeing Company, Department of Defense, GARMIN International, Honeywell International, Rockwell Collins, Stanford University, Lockheed Martin, MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Harris Corporation, NASA, National Business Aviation Association, and Raytheon.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the implementation of a surface management initiative in Boston saved 5,100 gallons of aviation fuel and reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 50 tons during a period of heavy congestion. A shared surface surveillance system combined with aircraft metering techniques reduced taxi-out time by 7,000 hours a year at New York’s JFK airport and 5,000 hours a year in Memphis. Helicopters flying over the Gulf of Mexico are also using NextGen technology to manage poor weather conditions and in Colorado to navigate through dangerous mountain terrain.
There’s also been a demonstration in Memphis with Delta Airlines and FedEx. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) conducted a demonstration at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) of a new surveillance display called the Tower Flight Data Manager (TFDM) system that would present surveillance, flight data, weather, airport configuration and other information critical to controllers. Specialized Optimized Profile Descents, also known as Initial Tailored Arrivals, have moved from the demonstration phase to operational use at airports in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami and Denver.
In March 2011, the FAA released the latest version of its implementation plan.
Implementation criticisms 
In October 2009, U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General Calvin Scovel and U.S. Government Accountability Office Director of Civil Aviation Issues Gerald Dillingham told Congress that the FAA faced considerable challenges in implementing a satellite-based NextGen ATC system, ranging from delays in approving new procedures and technology to skepticism among airlines regarding investment in new equipment. Testifying before the House of Representatives aviation subcommittee, Scovel warned that "the cost, schedule and benefits for NextGen are uncertain". Dillingham added that the "FAA faces cultural and organizational challenges in implementing NextGen capabilities".
Both said the agency needs to move away from developing RNP procedures for airports that merely "overlay existing routes" and toward implementing procedures that allow more direct flight paths that will increase efficiency and lower fuel burn and carbon dioxide emissions.
Dillingham said ATC system stakeholders have told GAO "that the process of approving and deploying RNP navigation procedures remains extremely slow and that the FAA's review and approval of a given original RNP design often takes years".
While NextGen programs have demonstrated improvements, there are a number of ongoing and potential issues that will affect NextGen implementation:
Ongoing problems continue to threaten NextGen’s costs and timeline. A released in October 2011 by the Government Accountability Office found the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has made some progress in implementation, but delays threaten to impact costs and benefits. Specifically, some acquisitions have been delayed, which has impacted the timelines of other dependant systems. The report also indicates that some key acquisitions may soon encounter delays, which can increase overall acquisition costs as well as costs to maintain current systems. For example, delays in implementing the ERAM program is projected to increase costs by $330 million, as well as an estimated $7 to $10 million per month in additional costs to continue maintaining the system that ERAM was meant to replace. In February 2012, Congress authorized $63.4 billion for FAA activities from FY12 - FY15, $11B of which is allocated to NextGen.
NextGen program interdependencies affect midterm and longterm implementation 
Due to the integrated nature of NextGen, many of its component systems are mutually dependant on one or more other systems. For instance, the delivery of ADS-B (Automatic Dependant Surveillance Broadcast) depends on ERAM because ADS-B requires the use of some ERAM functions. Additionally, ERAM is instrumental to the on-time implementation of two other crucial NextGen acquisitions— Data Communications and SWIM. The FAA pushed the Data Communications program’s start date from September 2011 to February 2012 and delayed the SWIM-segment 2 start date from 2010 to December 2012 in part due to ERAM's delay. The long-term result of this decision is not yet known but it could delay certain SWIM capabilities as well as hinder the progress of other capabilities that depend, in turn, on the system integration that SWIM is intended to provide. Consequently, the midterm (through 2018) and long term (beyond 2018) implementation of NextGen will be affected by how well FAA manages program interdependencies.
Potential budget reductions 
The delays in program implementation and budget constraints have also affected FAA capital budget planning. According to the report, congress has proposed reducing FAA’s capital budget by a total $2.8 billion (20%) for fiscal years 2012 through 2012 largely due to governmental budget constraints. Most of this proposed reduction is on NextGen and NextGen-related spending, as reflected in FAA’s revised 5-year Capital Investment Plan for fiscal years 2012 through 2016. FAA will have to balance its priorities to ensure that NextGen implementation stays on course while also sustaining the current infrastructure, which is needed to prevent failures and maintain the reliability and efficiency of current operations.
Effect of delays on FAA’s ability to collaborate with Europe 
The report indicates that delays in NextGen programs as well as potential budget reductions for NextGen activities Delays to NextGen programs, and potential reductions in the budget for NextGen activities, could delay the schedule for harmonization with Europe’s air traffic management modernization efforts (SESAR) and the realization of these benefits.
Environmental impacts of NextGen 
Another issue in implementing NextGen is expediting environmental reviews and developing strategies to address the environmental impacts of NextGen. A previous GAO report on environmental impacts at airports indicated that the changes in aircraft flight paths that will accompany NextGen efforts would affect some communities that were previously unaffected or minimally affected by aircraft noise and expose them to increased noise levels. These levels could trigger the need for environmental reviews, as well as raise community concerns. The report found that addressing environmental impacts can delay the implementation of operational changes, and indicated that a systematic approach to addressing these impacts and the resulting community concerns may help reduce such delays. It is worth noting that the FAA is working on developing environmental review processes that affect NextGen activities.
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