Margaret Jenny, president of RTCA, is one of the most well-known executives across technical aerospace circles. In recent years, her organization helped form the NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC) to serve as a government-industry forum for building a common understanding of the benefits as a result of the implementation of the FAA’s NextGen program.
Avionics caught up with Jenny ahead of her keynote speech at the upcoming Avionics for NextGen conference to learn about the progress the NAC is making to help the FAA achieve implementation of high-priority NextGen capabilities.
What are some of the recent efforts the NAC has made thus far in its effort to help the FAA achieve implementation of high-priority, early NextGen capabilities?
The NAC NextGen Integration Workgroup (NIWG) teams, consisting of industry and FAA participants, continued to identify top priority capabilities and locations and, with the help of the NAC Joint Analysis Team, collected and analyzed performance data and reported on the impact of selected NextGen deployments. The NIWG has served as the venue to set priorities and hold industry and FAA accountable to commitments.
The NAC launched the Northeast Corridor initiative, aimed at implementing NextGen capabilities to improve the performance of air traffic from Boston to Washington, including New York. The industry and the FAA are rolling up their sleeves and working through tough issues to make this happen. They have agreed on what metrics to use to measure the benefits. They have agreed on near-term (18-month) initiatives and will be focusing on the longer term soon. Partially as a result of the work of the NAC NIWG, the FAA has deployed NextGen industry priority capabilities on time at numerous airports that were high priorities for the users of the NAS.
In 2017, the NAC also delivered recommendations on enhanced surveillance as well as reports on the value of various NextGen capability deployments.
What is the biggest avionics-related issue or challenge facing all affected stakeholders regarding the FAA’s continued deployment of NextGen?
Many of the challenges, including with the introduction of modern avionics in the cockpit, are not technical. Operators want to achieve a timely return on their investments in new technologies. For some NextGen capabilities, the benefits the FAA can provide are limited until nearly 100% of aircraft are equipped. Some capabilities require not only new avionics but also deployment of related ground automation, infrastructure and air traffic controller decision support tools. To achieve the benefits of even some near-term NextGen capabilities, nearly all aircraft must be equipped with performance-based navigation (PBN), which is also the foundation for future, more sophisticated capabilities.
The industry is also working hard to meet the important 2020 ADS-B Out mandate.
Are there any standards currently in development by RTCA special committees that are crucial to the continued success of the NextGen program?
Twenty four special committees are currently developing minimum performance standards. Those critical to future NextGen capabilities include: multi-constellation GNSS and GNSS augmented by ABAS, GBAS and SBAS, aircraft collision avoidance systems for UAS as well as for advanced flight-deck interval management (FIM) and closely-space parallel runway operations, ADS-B for advanced FIM, controller-pilot data communications, synthetic flight vision systems, navigation information display for PBN, UAS detectand avoid and command and control, and airborne weather detection.
What are some of RTCA’s biggest NextGen-related priorities going into 2018? What would you like to see the NAC accomplish or make significant progress on by RTCA 2018?
The NAC will look beyond the 18-month horizon and define a path to more sophisticated NextGen capabilities. With the focus on the northeast corridor and on de-conflicting traffic to and from airports within a city or Metroplex, our priority is to identify the pacing items, the issues that, if not addressed early and solved in a timely manner, could derail our collective efforts.
As we move into a world where the airspace must accommodate many diverse operators and new entrants, we must find methods for ensuring the software embedded in aircraft and systems meets minimum safety performance requirements. We will need to develop performance- and risk-based standards for software in an expedited manner, faster than we have done before. We can build on the software standards developed for manned aircraft, which are aimed at ensuring the methodology for building software, not at detailed, proscriptive testing of the software. We must the find the happy medium between downloading and installing un-validated open-source code in drones and going through months or years of regulatory hurdles for drone software.
With our decades of experience, and focus on new entrants and disruptive technologies, RTCA is poised to work with our industry members to find that middle ground.