Under pressure in its efforts to manage air-traffic growth, FAA appears to have a capable new commander in Hank Krakowski, the former United Airlines executive named last fall to head the agency’s Air Traffic Organization (ATO). Krakowski shows a capacity for bold strokes, one of which was revealed at the RTCA Symposium in mid-May.
With FAA reauthorization legislation interminably delayed in Congress, and with the multi-agency Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) doing more planning than development, ATO is taking charge of the NextGen air-traffic modernization effort. The organization announced that Victoria Cox, formerly an ATO vice president, had been named senior vice president of NextGen and Operations Planning, reporting to Krakowski. Another bureaucratic reshuffling you might say, but ATO also claimed oversight of JPDO, which now reports to Cox.
Giving the keynote address at the aptly themed “NowGen” symposium, Krakowski said the aim of the new position is to “focus like a laser beam” on the next five years of the NextGen roll-out, which has a completion target of 2025. There is a need to “start actually implementing that which we have been talking about for many years now through the JPDO and our industry conversations as well,” he said.
Cox spoke at the symposium and explained why ATO, which operates the nation’s air-traffic control system and represents the majority of FAA’s budget, felt entitled to lead NextGen. “Within the ATO the feeling was that, while the aircraft is a central part of the system, and the airports cannot be forgotten in the system, in terms of implementation and the transformational programs that we have at the FAA in order to put NextGen into place — those are largely the responsibility of the ATO.”
The JPDO, established in 2003 by the Vision 100 Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act, is meant to coordinate the NextGen efforts of FAA, NASA and the departments of Defense, Commerce and Homeland Security. “Under enabling legislation, JPDO was established to facilitate NextGen activities. Its task is to create and carry out an integrated plan for NextGen, spearhead planning, and coordinate research, demonstrations and development in conjunction with relevant programs of other departments and agencies, and with the private sector,” the office states. As to the question, “Who is ultimately in charge of NextGen?” — the JPDO Senior Policy Committee, chaired by Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters and including the secretary of the Air Force and the administrators of FAA and NASA, calls the shots.
At a Senior Policy Committee meeting in January, Peters requested a plan to accelerate Next-Gen, which was to be delivered in May. Other agencies, represented on that committee and on FAA’s Operational Evolution Partnership (OEP) “Associates Team,” which counts a DoD liaison and JPDO Director Charles Leader among its members, apparently consented to ATO’s ascendancy over NextGen. Get used to the OEP process; it’s FAA’s favored way forward.
“Around the OEP process, there was a lot of discussion about the confusion of the nomenclature of the OEP versus the NextGen language out of the JPDO,” Cox said. “And I know I have seen personally a lot of that confusion. I have been asked questions like, ’We see a lot of overlap between the OEP and NextGen. Can you explain that redundancy?’ Well, OEP is our plan for achieving NextGen.”
Cox said bringing the coordinating function of JPDO under ATO’s wing is just one of three “pillars” to managing NextGen, along with integration and implementation of the component pieces. “We feel very strongly that this alignment of these three pillars, with the JPDO’s focus on long-term planning, on the interagency collaboration, the focus on integration and implementation, and pulling together all the support pieces that will help us get there — this new structure is going to be a great benefit in getting the kind of urgency that we need behind this right now,” Cox said.
“We can’t wait for an implementation plan, we have to move ahead with the planning we have,” she continued. “We can’t wait to figure out who’s role is what role. … We can’t have the FAA thinking, it’s the JPDO’s job to go out and pull in the DoD and get their cooperation. We need to feel that it’s our job to work with the JPDO in bringing about that collaboration.”