[Avionics Today 07-07-2016] United States lawmakers have reached an agreement on a spending bill that will fund the FAA through October 2017. Based on a summary of the bill released by both chambers of Congress on June 6, there are no major funding implications for the NextGen airspace modernization program.
|Lawmakers have issued a bill that would provide short-term funding for NextGen through 2017. Photo: House Transportation and Infrastructure committee
This bill marks the fourth short-term extension issued by lawmakers since the summer of 2015, as FAA funding for 2016 was scheduled to expire July 15 of this year. Lawmakers have released a summary of the bill for now, and will release the full text of the legislation "as soon as possible," according to a statement released by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The funding extension runs through 2017, which is a crucial period for the FAA’s NextGen program, based on the most recent three-year deployment plan released by the agency in October 2015.
In February, the Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a $15.83 billion budget request for fiscal year 2016, including $9.9 billion for Operations; $2.85 billion for Facilities & Equipment (F&E); $166 million for Research, Engineering, & Development (RE&D); and $2.9 billion in Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants. This included proposed NextGen funding totaling $956 million, distributed among F&E programs ($845 million), RE&D ($61 million), and operations activities ($51 million). The total amount is a 12 percent increase — about $99 million — over fiscal 2015’s enacted level.
While lawmakers have not yet released the full legislation, statements included in the summary of the bill show that lawmakers want the FAA to focus its NextGen efforts in continued delivery of benefits to end-users. These benefits include: reduction in flight times, an increased focus on addressing cybersecurity risks facing the air traffic control system, and regulating cyber security risks associated with increasing sophistication of aircraft technology and the inclusion of Internet Protocol (IP) within the increased automation.
The summary notes that the extension will direct the FAA to “establish a comprehensive and strategic framework to identify and address cybersecurity risks to the aviation system.” Over the last year, the agency has made some notable progress in this regard.
For example, in March 2016, the FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center issued an announcement reaching out to external contractors to prepare outlines for studying and tracking cyber attack threats and vulnerabilities to aircraft systems. Winning contractors will provide research and development of methodologies for Aircraft Systems Information Security/Protection (ASISP) Safety Risk Assessments found on modern avionics systems. It is a potential five-year study, with an initial nine-month, $900,000 phase to assess the applicability of the agency’s safety risk assessment framework to today’s modern aircraft.
Another avionics- and NextGen-related initiative included in the summary is a request to “ensure pilots are sufficiently trained on manual flying skills and how to monitor cockpit automation systems, addressing a factor in the 2013 Asiana Flight 214.” In the terms of the NextGen program, the agency has been trending in this direction already: increasing the amount of information available through its website related to the increased use of cockpit automation that NextGen deployment has enabled. The biggest example of this is the release of the new Controller to Pilot Data Link Departure Clearance (CPDLC DCL) flight deck user guide, with in-depth instruction on performing CPDLC flight operations as the DataComm program continues to introduce the DCL capability to more air traffic control (ATC) towers within the National Airspace System (NAS).
The new FAA extension also features several initiatives that both allow federal government agencies to take advantage of the newly released Part 107 rules, regulating the commercial operation of small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). Specifically, the extension instructs the FAA to streamline processes for “approval and interagency cooperation to deploy unmanned aircraft during emergencies, such as disaster responses and wildfires.” The extension will also prohibit UAS users from interfering with emergency response activities and “raises civil penalties to not more than $20,000 for those found in violation.”
National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) President and CEO Ed Bolen, who has been highly critical of the consideration of lawmakers to separate the agency’s role as a regulator and Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP), released the following statement following the announcement by House and Senate leaders on a new agreement for an FAA extension.
“This extension is also important because of what it includes, and what it leaves out. For example, we are pleased that the bill reflects some key general aviation priorities, such as the inclusion of third-class medical reform for pilots of small aircraft, and provisions focused on the safe integration of unmanned aircraft systems into the airspace. Equally important, the bill does not include risky proposals for creating a privatized air traffic control system, funded through new user fees,” said Bolen.