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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Editor’s Note: NowGen Next

Bill Carey

In a previous Editor’s Note and in the news section of this magazine, we have reported on the deliberations of the NextGen Mid-Term Implementation Task Force. Earlier this year, the FAA asked RTCA to establish this committee of industry and government volunteers to develop consensus-based recommendations for achieving NextGen operational efficiencies in the 2015 to 2018 time frame. The Task Force was given a tall order and an urgent schedule — its final report is due Aug. 31.

Avionics Magazine and RTCA have teamed to present the recommendations of the NextGen Implementation Task Force to the wider aviation community.

With this column, I am pleased to announce that Avionics Magazine and RTCA have teamed to present the Task Force recommendations to the wider aviation community. We will hold a one-day conference, "NowGen NEXT: Avionics Presents RTCA’s NextGen Implementation Task Force Recommendations," on Sept. 15 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington, D.C. Count on hearing directly from the Task Force leadership and senior FAA executives about the operational capabilities, costs, benefits and implementation strategies proposed to realize the NextGen vision. (For more information, see www.NowGenNEXT.com.)

Why the name NowGen NEXT? The term was coined in a column written for the RTCA Digest by Capt. Steve Dickson, senior vice president of flight operations with Delta Air Lines and chairman of the NextGen Task Force. Dickson wrote that the ultimate success of NextGen — the vision of the National Airspace System in 2025 — depends not so much on new technology, but on operational capabilities that can be derived from existing equipment now, with revised criteria, policies and procedures. At the same time, Dickson said, the aviation community must align its "NowGen" operational priorities with the long-term NextGen vision.

In that spirit, the NextGen Task Force is committed to providing FAA with a concrete set of proposals supported by metrics and suggested strategies for implementation. It "is set to deliver a short list of actionable recommendations that is long on detail, focusing on the difficult transition issues that must be addressed," according to the Task Force Interim Report, released June 30.

"... All recommendations will be actionable. All recommendations will document intended benefits, risks and costs, and will be vetted by the complete NextGen Task Force membership. Risks will be acknowledged up front, and mitigated jointly between the FAA and industry."

The Interim Report describes the methodology followed and the progress made since the Task Force was established in February. It is a snapshot of the efforts of some 284 work group members representing 115 industry and government stakeholders. From that talent pool, "we learned that there is a keen interest on the part of the operators to maximize the use of current aircraft operator equipage and (flight/airline operations center) infrastructure," the report states.

"... Specifically, the Task Force participants have expressed a desire for near-term successes, with one-third to one-half of the current list of candidate operational capabilities falling into this category. A strong desire for moving toward appropriate performance-based navigation procedures is also emerging, with nearly 40 percent of the candidate operational capabilities falling into this category."

The Task Force now has defined a candidate list of operational capabilities — processes that move an aircraft more efficiently on departure; allow for a preferred en route trajectory; provide an optimum profile descent and landing; and improve system flexibility in irregular operations. The "elements" of each capability, i.e., the operational approval, certification, procedural, training and equipage implications, have been defined. An Evaluation Factors subgroup has developed a methodology to assess the value of each capability.

What remains for the Task Force this summer is to complete value assessments of all the candidate capabilities. A Business Case Parameters subgroup consisting of senior finance executives from key operators will provide cost and benefit values to validate the assessments. The Task Force then will identify a prioritized list of operational capabilities to recommend to FAA.

The business case subgroup, a unique aspect of the NextGen Task Force, "will stand behind the final prioritized list," the report states. "Specifically, (the subgroup’s) endorsement of an operational capability means that they believe there is a positive business case for the capability, provided all the elements are achieved and the benefits realized."

Want to know what’s next for NowGen? I look forward to seeing you on Sept. 15.

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