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FAA Lays Out 15-Year Plans for PBN NAS Navigation Strategy

By Juliet Van Wagenen | October 4, 2016
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Aircraft flying over airport
Photo: SITA

[Avionics Today 10-04-2016] FAA Administrator Michael Huerta has signed off on the Performance-Based Navigation (PBN) National Airspace System (NAS) Navigation Strategy, the FAA’s Navigation and Landing Branch Manager Donna Creasap announced on Sept. 29, during the 2016 Avionics for NextGen conference. The strategy, which has been in the works for two years, sets a clear vision of PBN as the daily basis for operations at all locations in U.S. airspace over the next 15 years.

Performance-Based Navigation (PBN) is one of the first domains in which performance-based technologies and procedures were implemented across the NAS in order to upgrade airspace from the VHF Omnidirectional Range (VOR) navigation system and, fixed-ground infrastructure routes to a more dynamic environment for aircraft. PBN equipment allows an aircraft to fly precisely on a desired flight path within coverage of ground- or space-based navaids or with onboard aircraft systems, all of which leads to increased traffic capacity as well as reduced delays, fuel bills, emissions and noise.

PBN procedures are currently being implemented in a wide swath of operations, such as Metroplex upgrades as well as specific route procedures, including Optimized Profile Descents (OPDs), Area Navigation (RNAV) and Required Navigation Performance (RNP). It is also a mainstay in the transformation of the NAS from ground-based to satellite-based navigation.

The newly approved strategy sets out near-, mid- and long-term goals for implementing PBN approaches across the NAS and identifies navigation capabilities and services that will be available over the next 15 years.

“First of all, [the PBN NAS Navigation Strategy] was a vision as far as laying out PBN as a basis for daily operations. We are operating under a hybrid system right now. We have the conventional NAS and are continuing to operate it. Our focus is that the conventional system will remain as necessary in order to support resiliency, but our goal really is to get to daily operations using PBN,” Creasap said.

As part of that transition, the FAA identified the navigation capabilities and services available over the next 15 years and when they will become available at certain airports.

“It’s not only the FAA’s service provisions that add locations over the next 15 years, it’s also the operations and operators equipage and transition from today’s mixed environment,” Creasap noted.

As part of the agreement, the FAA has segmented airports throughout the U.S. into six service groups. The first segment identifies high-priority areas, which will see the highest level of PBN accommodation in the next 15 years, while the last segment has been deemed areas where the conventional system will remain in operation.

“We want to have the right procedures to meet the need,” said Creasap. “Service group one will have the vast majority of capabilities that we have available to us in the PBN world and then we transition to NSG 5, less structure and NSG 6, no structure.”

While long-term goals remain a bit vague and include moving to a streamlined NAS that enables vertically guided RNAV GPS approaches at qualifying airports and a complete transition to a time- and speed-based management system across the NAS, near-term goals are more defined. Among the 20 near-term goals the FAA has laid out to achieve by 2020, the agency is looking to implement RNAV with LPV and Lateral Navigation/Vertical Navigation (LNAV/VNAV) approaches at qualifying runways meeting Terminal Instrument Procedures (TERPS) criteria and begin the initial transition to improved PBN-based point-to-point navigation.

While the agency originally believed that it was too early to begin community outreach for PBN procedures, in order to receive final approval from the administrator, however, the FAA added segments that included community outreach, which Creasap notes is likely to have some unknown impact on the implementation of PBN procedures contained in the strategy.

“We realized that the inclusion of community outreach is adding an unknown into some of our processes because it seems to have a little bit of a different flavor, because everywhere that we go there are communities that are very vocal and engaged with what is happening with the transition of their airspace. And as much as PBN offers a strong element of safety on that continuous, repeatable route, if you happen to have a house under that continuously repeated route all of a sudden your interest is piqued,” said Creasap. To compensate for this, the agency is adding some flexibility into their deployment schedules for the project, and will look to accommodate those conversations and modify procedures as communities see fit to ensure the changes aren’t unduly influencing or burdening local communities.

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