NextGen faces several potential roadblocks in the future, but the industry must remain committed to seeing the airspace modernization initiative succeed, according to testimony before a House subcommittee on Wednesday.
“The FAA is currently spending roughly $1 billion each year to develop and implement NextGen. The aviation industry will have to invest billions of dollars to equip their aircraft with the avionics from which the benefits of NextGen will be derived,” said Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.). “Like other major infrastructure programs, NextGen is expensive and hard. This is further complicated by the tight federal budget. … Congressional support for NextGen remains strong. At the end of the day, the FAA must overcome the challenges and get the job done.”
National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) President and CEO Ed Bolen, who appeared on behalf of RTCA, said the general aviation community has begun seeing the benefits of NextGen upgrades — from airport approaches to automatic dependent surveillance-broacast (ADS-B) — but air transportation system users need more cost-benefit analysis to justify retrofitting existing aircraft with NextGen components.
“While the majority of general aviation aircraft are already equipped with GPS, and more than 74,000 WAAS-capable GPS units have been sold, additional equipment is needed to take advantage of the promised benefits of ADS-B and other system enhancements. At present, both the full costs and the ultimate benefits of equipping for these enhancements remain unclear,” said Bolen.
Members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure expressed a need to hold FAA accountable for NextGen implementation in a timely manner.
“We cannot afford to let the agency get in the way of success, and this Committee will hold FAA’s feet to the fire to make sure they implement the provisions in the law and move forward. The development of NextGen is an international contest that will determine the world’s leader in aviation technology. This is important for jobs, economic opportunity, and the future of the industry in the United States,” said Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), the committee chairman. .
Bolen said the lack of a concrete timeline for NextGen implementation continues to prevent users from retrofitting their aircraft.
“An integrated budget and timeline for achieving key NextGen milestones would help users determine how and when to equip their aircraft while adding accountability for the continued progress of NextGen implementation,” said Bolen.
Bolen also warned that sequestration could have a severe impact on NextGen, and recommended the aviation industry and the government need to have patience going forward.
“As we’ve seen, the final implementation of the NextGen air traffic system will not happen overnight. With so many uncertainties remaining, time will be required for the FAA to implement the system and train personnel to use the new technology, procedures, and policies. The aviation industry, too, will need time to understand the benefits; develop, manufacture, and install the necessary equipment; and train pilots in its use. In the meantime, existing ground-based infrastructure will serve a critical role in ensuring safety and providing access,” said Bolen.