[Avionics Today June 4, 2014] Aviation industry leaders are in Washington D.C. this week for the annual RTCA global aviation symposium to discuss the challenges of completing the FAA's modernization of its air traffic system.
RTCA 2014 begins this year on the heels of submission of a cautiously optimistic report on the latest progress of NextGen implementation by Chief NextGen Officer Michael Whitaker to Congress. The report is one of the most positive in recent years where the FAA
has faced significant challenges to the rollout of its various NextGen programs due to government shut downs, budget cuts and failure to reach certain program milestones. The $40 billion program is shifting the U.S. air traffic system from radar to a satellite-based navigation system that can guide more flights per hour on more direct and precise routes while also saving operators on fuel burn.
Whitaker's report indicates that the FAA is on track by to have all 20 en route Air Traffic Control (ATC) centers operating with En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) by 2015. ERAM is replacing the legacy HOST ATC system to provide communications support and generate display data for controllers that monitor aircraft flying at altitudes above 10,000 feet.
Implementation of ERAM is necessary to facilitate other aspects of NextGen. In a speech given in May at the International Aviation Club, compared the legacy ATC automation system to a "20-year old laptop with dial-up," stating that the old system is limited by its processing speed and inability to keep up with the growing number of radar inputs from the increasing volume of air traffic that has occurred in the U.S. since it was first implemented.
Also, in 2015 the FAA will implement ADS-B-enabled in-trail procedures in oceanic airspace, which will reduce separation minimums for aircraft flying over the ocean where radar surveillance does not exist. By the end of 2016, Whitaker said the agency expects to have made "substantial progress" implementing Terminal Automation Modernization and Replacement (TAMR), which upgrades the automation platform used by ATCs to monitor low altitude landing and takeoff traffic flows.
With the ground infrastructure for ADS-B already complete along with new targeted dates for ERAM and TAMR and the FAA reauthorization coming up next year, the next three years will be critical for NextGen implementation.
"Once you get a plan in place, if that plan isn't right then you're going to suffer for the rest of the deployment. So the most critical time for this leadership team here working is between now and (2018) October when those plans are due," said Ed Bolton, assistant administrator for NextGen, during a panel discussing NextGen implementation at RTCA 2014.