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Thursday, February 26, 2015

NetJets Looks to Stay on Leading Edge of NextGen with FAA Partnership

Juliet Van Wagenen

FAA Deputy Administrator for NextGen Pamela Whitley and NetJets Global Chief Operating Office and President of NetJets Aviation Bill Noe shake hands after signing new five year agreement for development and implementation of NextGen projects
FAA Deputy Administrator for NextGen Pamela Whitley and NetJets Global Chief Operating Office and President of NetJets Aviation Bill Noe shake hands after signing new five year agreement for development and implementation of NextGen projects. Photo: Business Wire

[Avionics Today 02-26-2015] Private aviation operator NetJets, alongside Ohio State University (OSU), has struck a new 5-year agreement with the FAA to build and implement NextGen initiatives within the National Airspace System (NAS). The new contract extends a previous agreement signed in 2008 in which the three entities worked together to develop and test NextGen procedures in the program’s beginning stages. Now, as the FAA and aviation industry are beginning to move into the next phase of NextGen and see the benefits of satellite-based Air Traffic Management (ATM) technology and aircraft navigation procedures, the partners intend to both facilitate the shift from trials involving infrastructure validation and data link testing to implementation.

“Our intention is to apply deployment of resources and implementation of technology on a system-wide basis wherever possible. But that’s a pretty big shift from the old agreement to the new agreement, which is in concert with the tone the FAA is taking on testing versus implementation,” Todd Weeber, vice president of operations at NetJets told Avionics Magazine. “This agreement builds on the prior relationship in that most of the places where previously you saw the words ‘test’ and ‘project’ now you see the words ‘implementation’ and ‘proliferation’ of NextGen technology.”

The agreement, signed Friday, Feb. 20, doesn’t outline specific programs for the 400-aircraft fleet operator to cover. Instead, it acts as a framework for the three entities to collaborate as new projects arise over the next five years that aim to reduce fuel usage, better monitor traffic flow and lessen noise imprint, among other benefits. NetJets is looking to take advantage of their fleet size and pool of resources, including their relationship with Ohio State University’s Center for Aviation Studies, to stay on the cutting edge of the advantages the new tech can bring — and, in turn, the airspace system at large will benefit.

“What’s in it for us? We are strong advocates for all of our customers and their guests — we call them owners because they literally own a piece of the program — and our owners want to be good neighbors. So, when you talk about predictive use of NextGen technology you get all the benefits in one bucket,” said Weeber. “You have a better noise footprint, you get a better green footprint, you bring less carbon emissions and, of course, you reduce the number of minutes of delays to both our customers, owners and others in the airspace system.”

While the field of implementation is open and, as of yet, filled with infinite possibility for the partners involved, the FAA has set their sites for the partnership on figuring out how to break down and use big data to make operations more efficient. New aircraft and systems are collecting data perimeters at an unprecedented volume and rate, but the next step is figuring out how to process and use data analytics on everyday operations, such as maintenance and route planning.

“The FAA has said that, with the technology already existing, it’s now time to take this data and turn it into valuable information,” said Weeber. “What lots of companies, lots of industries are doing these days is trying to figure out how to find utility in managing large amounts of data. That’s what the FAA has asked OSU and NetJets to look into and we’re in the process of scoping a data analytics project, which simply means that with all the data that we and the FAA collect; where is the utility in that data, how can you use that data? Whether it’s in the cockpit of one of our owners, or whether it’s the tower or the airport, I’m going to use that data to, perhaps, solve problems real-time, or to anticipate problems.”

Processing this data is where Ohio State comes in. The university has recently seen a push in interest and funding surrounding data analytics in all areas, including medicine and agriculture. OSU is looking to use the infrastructure that it has in place to look at how to efficiently use large volumes of data in aviation.

“Our job is to begin analyzing these massive volumes of data, and it isn’t just massive in volume, it’s massive in velocity; it comes quickly,” Seth Young, director of Ohio State University’s Center for Aviation Studies, told Avionics Magazine. “This is real-time data ranging from real-time weather information, to traffic information, to information about choices that NetJets makes on dispatching flights. This all comes very quickly and our job is to grab all that data and use our strengths in the different processes that go along with data analytics.”

Talks with the FAA regarding the new data analytics project have just begun, but with experience in other areas, Young was able to outline two steps in maximizing big data. The first step is data mining, or amassing the data that NetJets and the FAA collect. The second step is to figure out how to visualize the data, or deliver the “ones and zeroes” that come in, in charts, graphs or other diagrams that pilots, maintenance crews, Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) and others can then use to anticipate and solve problems.

While there’s little in the way of an exact timeline on when the operator will begin putting big data to work, the men expressed that they’d like to see improvements via the program within the next season.

“If you put the data side-by-side, we will be able to see on behalf of the general aviation industry where we might fit into the airspace system when things start to go not as planned,” Bob Tanner, vice president of corporate and government affairs at NetJets told Avionics Magazine. “At some point in the future if you want to apply data analytics and turn it into information and predictive information, you will be able to pre-select routes, altitudes, airports, specific types of navaids, etc., to keep the system moving as efficiently as possible. What will end up benefitting us will end up benefitting everybody and in that way we take advantage of our resources to be leaders, good partners and good neighbors in the industry.”

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