Editor’s note: Selling NextGen

By Jonathan Ray | October 1, 2011

There has been a subtle, but distinct, shift in the tone of the conversation about the FAA’s NextGen. I’m not sure if it’s the approaching 2020 or 2025 deadlines or if it’s more programs coming online, but the conversation has taken on a more urgent inflection.

Much has been written in this magazine and others about the importance of this modernization program. The conversation about NextGen is getting so loud and so big within this community that many in the mainstream media have started to pick up on it. The words Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), for example, are starting to pop up in general interest newspapers, magazines and TV news.

What is interesting to me is the clever marketing that has started to “sell” NextGen, and its multi-billion-dollar price tag, to the American public. Amid the calls for budget cuts and fiscal responsibility, the message about NextGen has changed from an airspace modernization program to a jobs and economy-boosting program. It’s true NextGen, with all the aircraft and infrastructure modifications and upgrades needed to enable these programs, has the potential to add billions of dollars to the U.S. economy over the coming years.

That may be a simple way to market it, but as we all know, NextGen is more complicated than that. “As a system of systems, it’s a lot and it’s a lot to explain,” said Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari, at an event in Washington, D.C., last month. “All of us need to do a better of explaining [NextGen] in English.... Now is NextGen’s moment. Let’s not miss this.”

Be that as it may, those of us reading this magazine would counter that it’s been NextGen’s moment for quite some time now. But I would agree that enthusiasm and excitement for NextGen has reached a fevered pitch.

Enthusiasm and excitement for NextGen has reached a fevered pitch.

Two of the questions that come up time and time again during NextGen discussions, whether they be in Avionics or the Wall Street Journal, is what equipment do we need and how much is it going to cost. The business case for NextGen is complicated and specialized and the aviation community is still trying to hash that out. But the equipment question is something that speaks directly to the avionics community, and is one that is pressing given the looming deadlines.

Last month, Avionics Magazine launched the Avionics for NextGen conference, held in Atlantic City, N.J., that sought to address, as specifically as possible, this question of equipment. There are many, many NextGen events, but there aren’t any like this one.

A conference venue outside of the Washington, D.C., beltway was a strategic decision, designed to move the conversation about NextGen past the “pitch,” beyond the D.C. rhetoric, beyond the politics to discuss the practical applications and operational benefits that users have been clamoring for. The conference schedule reflected our technological vision; each session was tasked to discuss one of the six component programs of the NextGen Implementation Plan System-Wide Information Management, ADS-B, Data Communications, NAS Voice Switch, Collaborative ATM and Weather. It was exciting to watch the conversation develop; the words cooperation, collaboration and trust were repeated over and over throughout the day. (See page 28 for more coverage of the event.)

Attendance at the event was great. We had a wide range of facets represented avionics manufacturers, FAA personnel, airframe manufacturers, airlines, Department of Defense and avionics component suppliers all gathered amid the ding-ding-ding of slot machines, in a conference room in Atlantic City to discuss how we can all do our jobs better and more efficiently.

We accomplished what we set out to do we moved the conversation beyond words to discuss the real technologies, the real nuts-and-bolts of NextGen and what that means for the user community. I very much look forward to continuing this conversation to further these initiatives, and Avionics is excited to be a forum for these dialogues. Stay tuned to this space, and to www.avionicsfornextgen.com, for more information about more NextGen-related events in the future.

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