Airlines and operators in the United States are reluctant to upgrade their aircraft avionics due to a lack of clearly defined long-term benefits of key NextGen initiatives, according to a new report from the Department of Transportation's (DOT) Inspector General (IG). These upgrades are necessary to enable the FAA to increase National Airspace System (NAS) capacity and help airspace users save fuel.
The new report from the IG is the latest in a series of audits monitoring the FAA's progress in transferring the U.S. air traffic management structure to a satellite-based system. Similar to other recent reports, the new audit is critical to the agency's progress, citing organizational culture, cost increases, schedule slips and performance shortfalls as major causes for delaying the implementation of the program.
Within the report, the IG says that the "FAA has not clearly defined the benefits of key NextGen initiatives for enhancing capacity, reducing delays, and reducing operating costs. As a result, airspace users are skeptical about FAA’s ability to deliver the technologies and related benefits and remain reluctant to equip with costly NextGen technologies."
An example of this is the reluctance of general aviation operators and some airlines to equip their aircraft with ADS-B transponders, despite the agency's promise to have the ADS-B ground infrastructure fully deployed by 2014. ADS-B Out is not mandated on aircraft until 2020, however, if too many airspace users wait until the last minute to equip, avionics shops will not be able to accommodate for demand.
American Airlines has earmarked about $3 billion (not counting new aircraft purchases) for NextGen fleet renewal, but is not able to use all of the equipment due to the FAA's delayed progress.
General aviation aircraft are most at risk of missing the 2020 deadline. According to data from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), nearly 160,000 GA aircraft will require ADS-B equipage by 2020. In 2013, only 2,600 GA aircraft were equipped with ADS-B avionics devices, a number that will have to increase by five to 10 times annually over the next six years in order for the entire GA fleet to meet the deadline.
To help speed along progress, the IG is recommending that the FAA "develop criteria for high-priority decisions, create performance indicators to measure the process of NextGen and update the NextGen Management Board's charter to clearly define its oversight role for NextGen."