[Avionics Today 06-08-2015] The 2015 Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA) global symposium was a reflection of the tremendous amount of changes that are occurring within the international aviation community, both in air traffic management and onboard avionics systems, as well as the integration of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) into civil airspace operations. The 11 different panel discussions featured perspectives from commercial, business, general, and military aviation experts on the technological advancements the industry is making. The panelists all expressed confidence to deal with the challenges facing the industry's attempt to modernize and safely manage future projected increases in air traffic with a robust combination of worldwide usage of new forms of communications, navigation, and surveillance.
RTCA Session 2: NextGen Safety Matters, Panelists from Left to Right: David Bachelor, Liaison Officer, SESR Joint Undertaking; Mel Davis, NextGen Liaison, National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA); Joe DePete, First Vice President, Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA); John Hickey, Deputy Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, FAA; Jerry Johnson, Director of ATM, Thales. Photo: NATCA.
While there was a heavy focus on the recent advancements and challenges ahead of the U.S. NextGen program, RTCA 2015 attendees also learned about ongoing progress in the Single European Sky initiative, Japan's Collaborative Actions for Renovation of Air Traffic Systems (CARATS), and the need for similar programs to get under way in other parts of the world — including Asia-Pacific and Latin America.
"RTCA develops the minimum performance standards for aircraft equipage used in the navigation, surveillance and communication of aircraft," RTCA President Margaret Jenny told Avionics Magazine. "The institutional mechanism that is RTCA enables the FAA to convene industry stakeholders without violated anti-trust laws. Producing minimum performance standards, as opposed to more proscriptive design specifications, encourages innovative solutions and expands the marketplace of solutions."
Throughout 2014, RTCA held 60 federal advisory committee meetings and 305 individual subcommittee meetings between working groups and task groups. In these events, 2,336 participants from 358 aviation industry organizations produced 24 new or updated documents and technical recommendations. Experts from industry giants such as Airbus, Boeing, Rockwell Collins, Honeywell, and others provide advice on policies, tactical operational enhancements, and technical performance standards that move NextGen and other global Air Traffic Management (ATM) modernization programs forward to enable deployment of more Performance Based Navigation (PBN) procedures, airport surface and data sharing, Data Communications (DataComm), and Multiple Runway Operations (MRO) — which are the four priorities of NextGen and are also shared goals of other programs.
"Most of our committees developing these standards work jointly with [European Organisation for Civil Aviation Equipment] EUROCAE to produce a single U.S.-European standard," said Jenny. "Both RTCA and EUROCAE are recognized international organizations by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the U.N. organization that provides standards and guidance for the world. We are working with ICAO to enhance the process of incorporating our standards into their documents. We also participate on key ICAO panels to ensure coordination between their standards and ours."
One of those global harmonization efforts was mentioned during the panel discussion on DataComm, moderated by United Airlines Chief Technical Pilot Chuck Stewart. During the session on DataComm, Stewart acknowledged the need for the U.S. and Europe to develop a harmonized consensus between the different avionics stacks required to enable Flight Management System (FMS) digital communications between pilots and controllers. Europe currently relies on certified onboard Aeronautical Telecommunications Network (ATN) data link avionics while the U.S. requires certified Future Air Navigation System (FANS) avionics to enable data link communications. During the panel discussion, the industry collaboration efforts that have made RTCA's development of technical standards so successful since its inception in 1935 were on displays. Airbus Multi-program Datalink and FMS Manager Jerome Condis and Boeing Air/Ground Data Communications, BR&T Airspace and Flight Efficiency Chief Program Engineer Rob Mead presented the world's two biggest competitive commercial airframe manufacturer's path toward building the capability to facilitate the usage of both versions of Data Comm within their airframes by the early to mid 2020s.
Every panel discussion at RTCA 2015 featured a reference to the commercial usage of UAS and to the excitement and challenges that this burgeoning industry presents for the rest of the air transportation system. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta's keynote speech provided a path toward integration in an internationally harmonized way.
"On the unmanned aircraft front, we're chairing the Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems — a group of 25 countries that is working toward a single set of technical, safety, and operational requirements for the certification and safe integration of unmanned aircraft," said Huerta.
According to Jenny, RTCA Special Committee 228 (SC-228) is on track to publish "Minimum Operations Performance Standards (MOPS) for Detect and Avoid (DAA) and Command and Control (C2) for UAS in 2016."
"Once accepted, these MOPS will be invoked by the FAA in regulatory documents and use a means of compliance with those regulations. They are focused specifically on large UAS operations from ground (Air Force Base) to Class A airspace and back, and will enable fully integrated operations in that transition," said Jenny. "NASA is also providing substantial support to SC-228 with data from their program to support the Verification and Validation phase of the MOPS development. Going forward, RTCA will build on these initial MOPS and expand the scope to produce MOPS that will include more airspace and more types of aircraft."
Finally, the symposium also highlighted the possibility of a new look for the future of the FAA, with different segments of the industry opposing and supporting the separation of the FAA's Air Traffic Organization (ATO) from its role as the U.S. safety certification provider for aircraft and onboard technology. While the industry is divided on whether the FAA Reauthorization should keep the agency within its current format or separate its role as the U.S. Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP) and ultimately the continued roll out of NextGen programs to be managed by a private corporation, RTCA's role with the government-industry collaboration on the NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC) will remain crucial to NextGen's success.
"During the discussion about FAA reform, though there was not unanimity of opinion, all agreed that a body such as the RTCA NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC), where executives from all key stakeholders come together to help steer the FAA, would be critical to any future FAA," said Jenny.