Business & GA, Commercial

Avionics Roadmap

By Frank Alexander | May 1, 2009
Send Feedback

Over the past few months, there has been growing interest in the development of improvements in the National Airspace System (NAS) with great emphasis on the near- and mid-term time frames extending to 2018.

There is a powerful realization that action is needed to cope with an increasing demand for air transportation, improve current levels of safety and security, minimize the impact on the environment and ensure the overall changes made to the NAS are economically viable.

The U.S. Department of Transportation, FAA and the multi-agency Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) have taken steps to focus on the necessary technological and infrastructure changes that will be needed and are looking to partner with the aviation user community to accelerate these changes.

Two of the more recent significant developments have been the creation of an office responsible for NextGen Operations and Planning within FAA’s Air Traffic Organization (ATO) and the RTCA NextGen Task Force. These activities will help determine the best ways to achieve the maximum, cost effective benefits using NextGen operational capabilities.

The initial focus will be the near- and mid-term time frames of 2009-2012 and 2013-2018, respectively. In January, FAA released its NextGen Implementation Plan (NGIP), providing the vision of how it expects to achieve NextGen goals.

Working Group

An important element of the NGIP is the role of the aircraft and avionic components that will be required to meet its objectives. Toward that end, the Aircraft Working Group of the JPDO produced an Avionics Roadmap, Version 1, released last October. It is intended to "provide other organizations involved in NextGen planning with an initial aircraft-centric perspective to assist them in understanding the integration issues that will be necessary with the other principal components of NAS development — Air Traffic technology and procedures, Communication, Surveillance and Flight Planning Systems.

The roadmap drew information from several existing documents, including the JPDO’s Concept of Operations, Integrated Work Plan and FAA’s NextGen Implementation Plan and Performance Based Navigation Roadmap.

The membership of the Working Group represents a cross section of the industry, including FAA, avionics vendors, OEMs, research organizations and users.

The primary focus of the roadmap is to identify operational capabilities that are achievable up to the end of the mid-term time frame in 2018. The decision was based on the lack of adequate definition of the far-term capabilities to the extent that it would be very difficult to determine the avionics requirements beyond 2018. Part of this is a result of the long lead times required to develop and implement a concept. On average, it takes about 18 years to transition from concept to full implementation.

The document consists of the roadmap and seven appendices. Perhaps the most important of which is a discussion of the framework of Trajectory Based Operations (TBO), which is considered by many to be one of the key elements of both the mid-term and far-term implementations of NextGen.

It was decided early on that Version 1 of the roadmap would only focus on near- and mid-term applications based on existing avionics capabilities or those capabilities that were expected to mature and be introduced in the mid-term time frame. These capabilities are identified in the Avionics Roadmap and divided into six categories:

  • Safety Enhancements. To support NextGen operations, enhancements to existing safety functions will be needed. This area identifies those enhancements thought to be needed in the near- and mid-terms.

  • Published Routes and Procedures. Predicated on improved operations associated with precision navigation capability, Area Navigation (RNAV) and Required Navigation Performance (RNP).

  • Negotiated Trajectories. Builds upon the capabilities of precision navigation by adding data communications capability to enable dynamic negotiation of preferred routes.

  • Delegated Separation. The transfer of some separation responsibilities from the ground to the flight deck adds to the capability of negotiated trajectories by increasing situational awareness in the air. Also, it will enable delegated separation practices to be broadened from use in visual conditions to use in instrument flight conditions.

  • Low Visibility Approach/Departure and Taxi. This category recognizes that more aircraft capability is available today to enable operations in weather-limiting conditions and with less dependence on costly ground infrastructure. This allows the use of GPS-based operations to more readily adapt to changing situations without reliance on existing or new ground infrastructure.

  • ATM Efficiencies. Identifies capabilities that improve the air-traffic management (ATM) process and reduce FAA’s costs of operations and/or enable new services to be provided.

The information is presented in two formats. First is a graphic depiction of each operational capability. It identifies the time frame, the operational capability and the supporting Operational Improvements. The second identifies the key enablers believed to be needed to support the capability. For simplicity, the enablers were color coded green in the report to identify those deemed to be mature and capable of presently supporting the capability; and orange to identify those that are not yet fully evolved but are expected to become available within the specified time frame.

Trajectory Operations

The first of the seven roadmap appendices focuses on TBO, one of the key tenets of NextGen. TBO presumes each aircraft receives a clearance that includes performance requirements in four dimensions. The aircraft then operates in a window that is presumed to be conflict free for the duration of the flight. Since the likelihood of this occurring is somewhat improbable, an ongoing negotiation process takes place between the air-traffic management system, the aircraft and its respective operational control organization, if applicable.

The goal of trajectory-based operations is to provide an optimum flight path that supports the needs of the overall system to provide maximum capacity when needed and maximum fuel and operating efficiency for each individual flight.

There will be differing levels of performance requirements for TBO operations depending on the traffic density, destination and environmental conditions, such as convective weather. TBO also will be highly dependent on a large information-sharing system, data link communications and precise surveillance such as ADS-B and RNP.

At present, gaps exist in both the definition and execution concepts of TBO, particularly for application in the far term. One of the purposes of this appendix is to both identify some of those gaps and offer thoughts as to how they might be applied to the aircraft element. Much of the work to be done for the far-term definitions of aircraft avionics will be dependent on the final TBO definitions.

Appendix 2 identifies key enablers and capabilities they are expected to support. They are also expressed in terms of the technology options they are intended to support and the required level of expected performance. Once again, a color coding system is used to identify those technology options that are readily available (green), those that are under development (red) and those that are not yet defined or not under development (yellow).

Some operational improvements that are identified in the Integrated Work Plan were not addressed in the roadmap because they were either beyond the scope of the mid-term or were not sufficiently developed.

Appendix 3 serves as a repository for those operational improvements. They are being reviewed as part of the Aircraft Working Group work plan for 2009.

Establishing the correct priorities for NextGen Implementation is to a large extent driven by the need to solve critical problems identified in the NAS. Solutions to these problems are often constrained by the lack of the right equipment, policies and procedures.

In Appendix 4, the roadmap provides an aircraft centric view of those capabilities that can provide high benefit, low risk solutions to pressing issues through the mid-term time frame. These capabilities are considered low risk because they are mature and contain understood avionics and ATM system procedures.

An example would be the conditions that exist in a large metropolitan complex where traffic is constrained by traffic flows feeding multiple airports using conventional navigation aids and spacing criteria. The use of RNAV, RNP and ADS-B procedures and spacing criteria could provide substantial improvements by better utilization of existing airspace and in the case of RNP, reduced lateral separation standards.

Appendix 5 identifies the key policy issues that need to be addressed in the near- and mid-term to enable the use of the avionics capabilities of the aircraft. Future policy issues are part of the work plan for 2009.

Appendix 6 lists the membership of the Working Group and Appendix 7 is a glossary of terms.

The Aircraft Working Group will continue to evolve this roadmap as part of its 2009 work plan, and intends to expand the operational capabilities to include the broader needs of the user community, including general aviation, the military and unmanned aircraft systems.

The working group also plans to participate in refining the definition of TBO and to fully characterize avionics system evolution through the far-term. Other work will include addressing non-avionics capabilities that have been identified in the JPDO Integrated Work Plan and operational concept material.

The Avionics Roadmap is available for download at

FAA: Passengers, Operations Down

Nearly 8 percent fewer passengers are expected on major U.S. airlines for domestic flights in 2009, according to FAA’s annual Aerospace Forecast, released March 31.

U.S. aircraft operations are predicted to drop 5.7 percent in 2009 from 2008.

"The downturn facing aviation mirrors the economic situation around the world. As the economy has dipped, so has the demand. But we expect that as economic growth returns, so too will passengers and operations," Lynne Osmus, acting FAA administrator, said in the report.

The weak economy will deflate domestic and international travel in the near term, forcing FAA to revise downward its growth projections in the longer term. In 2008, FAA said U.S. airlines would reach one billion passengers a year by 2016; in the 2009 forecast, this milestone was pushed back until 2021.

"The industry’s response to the current economic downturn is to better match supply (seats) and demand (passengers) by modestly cutting fares and dramatically reducing capacity. With no evidence of pent up demand, we do not anticipate a return to previously forecasted passenger levels even when recovery takes hold," according to the report.

The number of passengers on U.S. airlines domestic and international is forecast to increase from 757.4 million in 2008 to 1.1 billion in 2025, according to the forecast. After this year, passenger enplanements are set to increase by an average of 2.7 percent per year from 2010 to 2025. Beginning in 2010, FAA expects operations to grow at an average annual rate of 1.5 percent.

NextGen Task Force Works Against Tight Deadline

A leader of the recently formed NextGen Mid-Term Implementation Task Force appealed to airline delegates April 1 to get involved in the ambitious effort to achieve NextGen operational capabilities by 2018.

Less than two months after the first meeting of the task force, Stephen J. Vail, senior manager of Air Traffic Operations with cargo carrier FedEx Express, provided an update on its deliberations to the AEEC Symposium in Minneapolis. Vail serves as co-chairman of the Operational Capabilities work group of the task force.

"I’m here as a paid political announcement for a NextGen task force seeking your help," Vail told the audience of airline engineers and suppliers. "This is the first meeting of this type that I’ve ever been to as an operator and I don’t recognize many faces around the room, so you haven’t been to operational meetings. If we don’t increase that interface, I believe that the road to NextGen will be a rocky path."

Meeting under the auspices of RTCA, the task force was commissioned by FAA in the latest update of the regulatory agency’s NextGen Implementation Plan, released Jan. 30. It has an ambitious mission with a tight deadline. The task force, which first met Feb. 10, "will accelerate collaboration and forge a consensus-based set of recommendations on a prioritized set of (NextGen) operational capabilities with a positive business case to be delivered by 2018," according to a RTCA summary. The recommendations are expected in August.

"We’re trying to wrap our arms around this elephant," Vail told the symposium. "... That, by the way, is a scary deadline for all of us. We only started this about four and a half weeks ago, and we’ve got to be through by August."

Vail presented a work flow diagram based on two groupings. Listed in the first is what can be done with present equipage that is not being done. The second grouping is dubbed "WWW" for what, where and who. "If X airline would equip with X at X location," he explained, "what could we do? In other words, [there are] preferred user benefits to those who equip."

The task force had identified about 28 "capabilities" as opposed to "tools" on which to focus, Vail said. Next, an operations group will define elements within each capability, such as engineering, training, equipage and regulatory requirements. For those elements, a cost-benefit analysis will be made.

"That will go through a decision assessment tree and hopefully, at the end of August when our report is done, we’ll come out with about six or seven capabilities that can be used as an example and start down a path toward NextGen," Vail said. — Bill Carey

Receive the latest avionics news right to your inbox