Some may wonder whether, after commissions are established and lengthy reports are published, any action results in Washington, D.C. A recent briefing at the nation's capital indicates that sometimes it does.
Last year, the Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry issued a detailed report of what must be done to give the U.S. air transportation system a much-needed shot in the arm. Among the report's suggestions: "The administration should immediately create a multi-agency task force with the leadership to develop and implement an integrated plan to transform our air transportation system." At the late-July briefing, such a task force was announced. Called the Joint Planning Office (JPO), it brings together as participants the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), NASA, the departments of Defense, Transportation, and Homeland Security (DoD, DoT and DHS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, among other government agencies.
The key word in the report is "transform," rather than "modernize," because the JPO's intent extends beyond implementing the newest technology. It is to establish "a long-term vision (2025 and beyond) of the national air transportation system," according to John Kern, senior advisor to the FAA administrator and now JPO chairman. Consider the JPO as a kind of "think tank" for air transportation's future development. Within a year, the JPO is expected to make available to the U.S. Congress and Bush administration a "national plan…outlining the overall strategy, schedule, and resources needed to develop and deploy the nation's next- generation air transportation system," said Kern.
What, you may ask, happened to FAA's 10-year Operational Evolution Plan (OEP)? It hasn't gone away. From a big-picture perspective, JPO's task is to "align" the OEP and other plans involving aviation safety, security and air traffic services. No doubt the JPO also will help rectify the OEP's shortcomings, as recently outlined by the DoT's Office of Inspector General (OIG), which says FAA needs to make the plan "more realistic, cost-effective and executable."
Whether his organization has the solution, Kern seems to fully understand the problem OIG reported. Citing three new technologies–wide area augmentation system (WAAS), reduced vertical separation minimum (RVSM) and automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B)–he said at the briefing: "We have three or four really complex systems that don't integrate. How do we integrate those in a reasonable, cost-effective, beneficial way, as we move forward?
"My approach," he added, to answer his own question, "is, let's come up with an operations concept and then figure out what technologies we need in the future." This reverses the conventional practice of developing a technology and then establishing a concept for its use. The OEP will be continually updated, and the national plan will help guide the OEP, according to Bob Pearce, director of strategy-communications and program integration at NASA Aerospace Technology Enterprise, and NASA's principal representative in the JPO.
The JPO, located on Washington's Pennsylvania Avenue, already is working on the national plan for a new air transportation system. The plan will comprise five chapters, says Pearce. Revealing the breadth of the JPO's mission, the chapters will cover: JPO's vision, a socio-economic analysis, goals, the future operations concept, and an R&D plan. NASA will play a key role in executing the R&D plan. Regarding the private sector, Pearce adds, "We're consulting them on R&D requirements, and we'll see how we can include them in the [Joint Planning] Office." Kern also alluded to an "advisory committee" that could include company presidents.
Will a plan on top of other plans expedite the modernization, or "transformation," of our air transportation system? "Transformation is a long-term process, but if benefits are 20 years away, no one will invest," Pearce acknowledges. "So we're also looking at what near-term benefits can be implemented."ï¿½
Perhaps most encouraging is the level of attention being given to establishing a new air transportation system. The JPO is part of a "two-tiered" structure that also includes a policy committee. Chaired by the Secretary of Transportation, the committee would include such august members as the FAA administrator, the undersecretaries of Defense and Commerce, and the NASA administrator, among others. "This group will make the final decisions and approve the national plan," says Kern.
The amalgamated clout of the JPO is what the Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry was looking for to advance air transportation in the United States. Now we will see if it delivers the desired results.