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Thursday, April 1, 2010

FAA Responds To Task Force

Agency outlines action items in response to recommendations of the RTCA NextGen Mid-Term Implementation Task Force

By Frank Alexander

FAA on Jan. 31 published its response to recommendations of the RTCA NextGen Mid-Term Implementation Task Force (Task Force 5). The Task Force report, published in September 2009, represents an industry consensus set of recommendations for improvements to the nation’s air transportation system during the period 2010 to 2018.

The Task Force report contained 56 recommendations, of which FAA accepted 33, or all of the “Tier 1” applications. Tier 1 applications are those the Task Force assessed to be of high benefit to the users and low risk for implementation to both FAA and industry stakeholders.

The Tier 1 applications were grouped into seven categories. The first five — Surface, Runway Access, Metroplex, Cruise and National Airspace System (NAS) Access — identified specific recommendations in these individual areas. Of the remaining two categories, one was defined as “cross cutting,” representing applications that are integral to supporting the others; and one as “overarching,” viewed as being critical to the success of implementing the recommended operational capabilities.

In its response to the Task Force, FAA identified each of the accepted recommendations and provided an action plan for accomplishing it. The responses vary from completing programs that are already in progress, rapid implementation of programs that are at or near maturity, evaluating policy and procedural changes and conducting research into programs that can be implemented toward the end of the mid-term period.

One of the more significant short-term improvements aviation industry stakeholders have committed to is implementation of the Air Traffic Safety Action Program (ATSAP) agreement between FAA’s Air Traffic Organization (ATO) and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA). The program is similar to the Aviation Safety Action Program between FAA and air carriers to identify safety deficiencies by providing a measure of immunity to an employee who reports a safety problem. The air carrier program has proven very successful since its implementation. FAA’s action plan calls for completion of ATSAP training by the end of this year.

Another concern of airlines is the current process for obtaining approvals for Performance-Based Navigation (PBN) operations and procedures. Some operators won’t make the commitment to PBN procedures due to the costs to equip aircraft and the special training involved for a limited number of available instrument procedures.

One possible solution to the high costs of PBN is for the government to provide financial incentives for operators to equip. These could come in the form of low-cost loans, tax credits or other financial incentives. An additional means to incentivize would be to apply the “best equipped-best served” concept to air traffic. This would represent a significant departure from the current policy of “first come, first served” and would be as much a political issue as an operational one.

FAA has committed to maintaining a dialogue on this topic but also recognizes that the best means to encourage equipage is to provide PBN capabilities in greater numbers and with shorter lead times from inception to completion.

The introduction of PBN procedures, especially Required Navigation Performance (RNP), has been slow to evolve. This may be due in part to the increased volume of work and the lack of FAA inspectors in the field with good working knowledge of PBN.

The Flight Standards and Aircraft Certification Services offices of FAA’s Aviation Safety organization have begun to respond to these concerns by increasing both the number of inspectors and their level of knowledge of PBN procedures. The action plan to address this recommendation calls for a Lean Process review and a review of the current National Environmental Policy Act to identify changes, streamline, and improve the processes and procedures that will better enable the implementation and improve the coordination of PBN products. The agency’s goal is to complete the reviews and begin the implementation of process changes this year.

In addressing industry concerns about surface movement, FAA has committed to providing Airport Surface Detection Equipment, Model X (ASDE-X) to 34 of the 35 designated Operational Evolution Partnership (OEP) airports and a few other select airports. The agency is considering funding infrastructure for surface surveillance in airport non-movement areas and integrating some of the surface monitoring function with additional decision support tools by 2018.

A key commitment made by the FAA is to work with industry to develop an improved means of data sharing and distribution, not only for the surface applications but for several other applications, including collaborative decision making tools and procedures that are considered a critical element of any future Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) environment.

One of the areas where industry sees a large operational benefit is in greater utilization of closely spaced parallel and converging runways. Currently, utilization of procedures for these types of runways is limited as is the mixing of instrument landing system (ILS) and RNP approach procedures. Industry believes that changes in policies and procedures related to such runways can offer substantial increases in capacity at several high-density airports. FAA concurred with this industry recommendation and will begin to approve operations at additional runway ends where the procedures already exist as well as including up to five more airports.

FAA also committed to review the current blunder assumptions used in approving closely spaced parallel runway operations to determine the operational impact of these changes. This will occur over the next two years and changes will be implemented in FAA Order 7110.65, Air Traffic Controllers Manual. FAA also will consider using Precision Runway Monitoring-Alternative (PRM-A), an approved multilateration system that provides precise aircraft position information that is essential to providing the necessary safety monitoring of aircraft performing closely spaced parallel approaches.

The agency’s action plan will further commit to evaluating two support tools: the Converging Runway Display Aid (CRDA) and Relative Position Indicator (RPI) at selected airports, and use the data collected to support greater field implementation of RPI in 2012.

Viewed as the replacement for ILS, satellite-based precision instrument approaches (GNSS Landing System; Localizer Performance with Vertical guidance) can provide backup to existing ILS systems for the near term and replace them in the mid- to far-term periods. Having this technology available as a backup for ILS allows an airport to maintain capacity levels in the event of an ILS outage. FAA agreed with this recommendation, and this year will conduct simulations and safety analyses of using combinations of satellite-based and ILS instrument approach systems. It will update Order 7110.65 to authorize the use of satellite-based technology during simultaneous independent and dependent approaches to closely spaced parallel runways.

The term “Metroplex” describes an area where there are several airports, and in some cases major airports, located in a small geographic area. A good example is the New York Metroplex. This represents a challenging environment to provide increased capacity while maintaining safety. Industry believes the use of Area Navigation (RNAV), RNP and the radius-to-a-fix leg type offer the best means by which to de-conflict traffic while maintaining or increasing capacity.

The Task Force recommended that implementation of RNAV and RNP procedures be increased in both enroute and terminal environments and used to help de-conflict terminal airspaces as well as to improve enroute traffic flow. The Task Force also recommended that joint FAA/industry teams be created at each potential site to oversee the development of procedures to ensure they meet the desired objectives.

In concurring with these recommendations, FAA agreed to assemble a team of PBN airspace experts for each proposed site to work with stakeholder groups to ensure that procedures being designed meet the needs, budgets and cost benefits desired by the users. Particular emphasis will be placed upon the completion of New York, Chicago, Houston and southern Nevada airspace re-designs utilizing RNAV procedures to a great extent.

The agency also agreed to complete the scheduled development of conventional procedures with an emphasis on achieving similar levels of quality and benefit. The time frame for these activities is 2010 to 2012.

In the broader sense, FAA also agreed to develop integrated airspace at key sites, including those that were included in the Task Force recommendations. Starting this year, it will begin to use RNAV terminal procedures to create more efficient use of existing airspace and to de-couple procedures of primary and secondary airports within a metroplex. This will include the introduction of new controller procedures as well as expanding the application of 3 nautical mile separation standards where feasible. This project is expected to continue through 2015.

For the cruise phase of flight, the Task Force recommended greater use of Time Based Metering (TBM) and advancing the application of Required Time of Arrival (RTA), an onboard capability of many of today’s flight management computers.

Time control provides a much greater level of predictability for inbound traffic and can be adjusted as necessary to accommodate the acceptance rates of traffic entering terminal airspace.

As part of the broader recommendation for improved information exchange, the Task Force recommended providing better access to information about Special Use Airspace to aid in improved flight planning for operators. Currently, the Traffic Management Advisor (TMA) time-based metering function only works within a single center boundary. FAA has committed to conducting a cost/benefit analysis to determine the value of adding Adjacent Center Metering to the system that will enable time-based metering to extend beyond a single center boundary.

The agency will develop an advanced training program for air traffic managers to encourage increased used of the TBM function. An investment decision was to be made in the first quarter to deploy a new Time-Based Flow Management System. FAA also will consider expanding the TMA system to five additional OEP airports.

Starting this year, FAA will collaborate with industry to evaluate the benefits of RTA and establish a series of performance metrics that will lead to proof of concept demonstrations in 2011 and a limited implementation of RTA during the period 2014-2018. This will be done in conjunction with an analysis of the Collaborative Airspace Planning activity recently conducted between the Atlanta and Memphis air route traffic control centers. Also in 2010, FAA will develop a strategy of implementation for RNAV Q and T (terminal transition) routes.

Access to the NAS is considered to be of great importance to the general aviation community. Many GA operations are conducted in airspace that does not have radar coverage and into airports that do not have ILS approach procedures. To address these concerns, the Task Force recommended that FAA provide improved access to non-OEP airports through the addition of GPS Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS)-based LPV instrument approaches. It also recommended that FAA provide radar-like services in areas where radar is not available using ADS-B Out technology.

To address these concerns, FAA will maintain a goal of producing 300 LPV approaches per year through 2015 and work with the aviation community in determining where these new procedures will provide the greatest value. The agency agreed to expand the ADS-B program to include coverage in non-radar areas. It will explore cost-sharing partnerships with state and local governments, such as the Colorado Wide Area Multilateration (WAM) initiative, to develop alternative surveillance services for existing non-radar areas.

The first of two cross cutting recommendations involves the development of data link communications for routine ATC communications, re-routes and revised departure clearances. It also addresses the application of Tailored Arrivals that utilize data communications to transmit a three dimensional arrival path for international arrival traffic coming in from oceanic routes.

The second recommendation is to facilitate an integrated system-wide approach (Collaborative Decision Making/Traffic Flow Management/Air Traffic Control) to air traffic management.

Pending an investment decision in 2011, over a period of five years FAA will implement Data Comm Segment 1 to include revised departure clearances and in 2016, to enable airborne re-routes for traffic flow management. FAA has also agreed to transition Tailored Arrivals from demonstration projects to full operational use at three coastal international airports and to work with industry to identify other candidate coastal airports for additional implementations.

Over the next two years, FAA will analyze the requirements needed to implement proven decision support tools and data-sharing capabilities. In 2011, the agency will collaborate with aviation stakeholders to deliver a TFM capabilities roadmap that can be accomplished in the 2014-2018 time frame. In 2012, it will upgrade the existing traffic flow management system to include an initial electronic negotiation capability for more efficient flight planning.

During the period of 2011 to 2016, FAA will deploy a means for air traffic managers to electronically transmit re-routes to the aircraft and dispatcher.

In accepting the recommendations of the RTCA report, FAA has indicated a willingness to commit both funding and resources to making needed changes. The FAA response also notes that the success of implementing these improvements is a shared responsibility of both the agency and airspace users. FAA must provide the infrastructure, ground equipment, policy and procedural changes; users must be willing to equip their aircraft and support systems and to provide the necessary training to utilize the improvements. This may be the most challenging aspect of the NextGen concept.

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