ATM Modernization, Commercial

NextGen Implementation Prompts Congressional Review

By Woodrow Bellamy III  | October 3, 2014
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[Avionics Today 10-03-2014] Lawmakers are calling for a review of the FAA’s structure following a report by the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General (OIG) regarding Air Traffic Controller (ATC) and pilot usage of the recently completed Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) ground network. According to the report, although the deployment of the 624 ADS-B ground radio stations is complete, the actual usage of the technology is still “years away,” according to the OIG. 
Garmin’s GDL 90 with ADS-B In capability, which is the aspect of ADS-B that the FAA sees giving the most benefit to operators. Photo: Garmin.
Transportation and Infrastructure Committee members Bill Shuster, R-Pa., and Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., issued a joint statement regarding the report. 
“A recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office reveals widespread and growing skepticism among the aviation community about the FAA’s capability to successfully modernize our nation’s airspace — the effort known as NextGen. Now, with the Department of Transportation Inspector General’s report on the FAA’s inability to effectively deploy a significant component of NextGen nationwide, Congress must thoroughly reexamine whether the FAA’s organizational structure will allow the agency to successfully execute new technology programs safely and cost-effectively in the decades ahead,” the lawmakers said. 
The FAA believes airspace users will gain the most benefits from the advanced capabilities of ADS-B In, which allows aircraft equipped with an ADS-B Mode S transponder or Universal Access Transceiver to receive information from other aircraft that are transmitting their positions throughout the National Airspace (NAS). While the agency is only mandating ADS-B Out equipage by Jan. 1, 2020, ADS-B In provides the true situational awareness benefit to operators because of its ability to display air traffic that is most relevant to the pilot. 
However the OIG’s report states that the agency is facing evolving requirements around ADS-B avionics. 
“Requirements for ADS-B In advanced capabilities continue to evolve, creating significant challenges for certifying and equipping users with ADS-B avionics,” said the OIG. “Finally, the total cost and timeline to implement ADS-B and provide benefits for FAA and airspace users remain uncertain. FAA has increased its cost estimates for the total program by approximately $400 million and continues to adjust expected ADS-B benefits.”
The report also states that although the entire ground infrastructure has been deployed, the entire system has not yet been “sufficiently tested.” 
The OIG issued six recommendations regarding the challenges the FAA is facing for certifying and equipping users with ADS-B avionics. Firstly, the agency should seek to resolve performance problems identified during its operational testing on ADS-B. Then develop a schedule to establish a system that can monitor the performance and integrity of the ADS-B system. And lastly, the OIG recommends improving communication with the aviation community about intended use of ADS-B services. 
The FAA also needs to “be in a position to introduce and support ADS-B In capabilities for congested airports and develop a more well defined schedule for determining the “end state for the ADS-B program with cost and schedule baselines. Finally, the report recommends a determination of whether cost savings can be realized for operators if the agency delays payment by users for subscription fees to ADS-B services in locations where users are ADS-B services are not being used. 
Although the agency has not responded directly to the statement from Shuster and LoBiondo, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta stated during a speech at the Air Traffic Controllers Association (ATCA) Convention that there will be a “call to action” at the end of October regarding ADS-B equipage.

“We will try to identify what the issues are, or what the barriers are, so that the carriers can equip by the deadline that we worked with industry to establish, a deadline that is rapidly approaching — January 2020,” said Huerta. 

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