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Nextgen FAA Technology’s Implementation and Transformation Benefits

by Danial
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Abstract

NextGen FAA, a new aircraft traffic management system for the USA, was also discovered to be a stepping stone towards tighter national security over the skies and flights in the country. It uses Global Satellite Network and ground-based radar systems to gather data for processing and providing the pilots with accurate information about the air traffic situation at any given time, the weather conditions along alternative routes, and procedures to follow in order to have the shortest and safest route to a destination. Furthermore, the new technology maximizes the capacity utilization of airports, timeliness of arrivals, and departures, and also utilization of a wider air space. Pilot projects in Alaska and Phoenix showed remarkable cost savings. However, in many other airports, there was a general lack of compliance to the recommended procedures needed to realize the desired benefits. There was lack of information about the extent of corresponding training and orientation of pilots to the new system.

Funding NextGen’s multi- billion dollar projects encountered difficulties as a result of tight government budgetary constraints. and also partly because the reports generated by FAA did not show a general trend towards realizing cost benefits. As of the latest development, Congress decided to cut the budget of FAA in the absence of other sources of funds. And the Department of Transportation along with FAA had recommended the closure of 168 Control Towers. This project points out the lack of transparency for arriving at the decision to sequester those towers along with reducing employment at the FAA by removing controllers. There were several other less important non-operations aspects that have less value than the control towers and the controllers, but were not even reported to Congress as options for budget cuts. What this project recommends is not a budget cut but the FAA’s initiatives to generate revenues with the NextGen FAA technology’s benefits to offer in exchange for justifiable fees. Along with the implementation, there ought to be more thorough training and development of pilots, promotions to the owners of aircrafts, and more relevant performance reports that show cost benefits. All these insights were gained out of critically evaluating the available reports of FAA. In the final analysis, it would appear that there is no need to reduce the budget for FAA. But there is an urgent need for the management and manpower of FAA to raise revenue out of utilizing the NextGen GSN technology at least for the USA air space. An estimated $ 1.8 billion can be raised.

The capabilities of NextGen FAA technologies were reviewed as to the benefits that can be gained. NextGen Technology is a scientific means to ensure predictability of flights. This paper recommends pursuing the development and implementation of NextGen FAA partly for the benefits that can be gained and partly because it can actually reap more revenues for the government. 

I. Introduction

1.1. Statement of the Project

This project reviewed the conversion of the current air traffic control system to a modern air traffic controlled system called NextGen. A new aircraft traffic management system over the skies of the USA has been programmed to utilize satellite technology and ground radar technology. It was in response to multiple weaknesses under the old way of facilitating flights in their departure and arrival from one airport to another. There have been frequent delays or cancellation of flights due to weather conditions, airport capacity limitations, poor visibility, and even fatalities due to accidents. Losses as a result of flight delays alone was estimated to reach $ 32.9 billion per year, according to a study entitled “Total Delay Impact Study” commissioned by the FAA using data in 2007. The breakdown as to who shouldered the losses is shown in Figure A – High Cost of Inefficiency of Air Traffic Management in the USA. (Guy, A.B. 2010).

Nextgen FAA Technology’s Implementation and Transformation Benefits

Figure A – High Cost of Inefficiency of Air Traffic Management in the USA

NextGen FAA technology reduces “human error risk” of   “pilots, air traffic controllers, pedestrians, vehicle, and tug operator” (FAA [6] 2013, p. 3). This is important considering the forecasted increase of passengers of airlines perhaps not immediately but eventually. As of 2011, the US Aviation Industry registered a total 791.2 million passengers. FAA estimated the demand to exceed 1 billion passengers by 2021 (Zisman, M. 2012). And so, aside from batting for efficiency in air traffic management and aiming for accuracy as well as safe travel, the NextGen FAA technology was developed with the foresight of serving a growing number of passengers and a growing number of flights that can become an air traffic management problem in the near future. But there has to be a budget worth more than $ 40 billion dollars for the deployment of NextGen hardware and software technologies.

1.2. Recent Problems Encountered by the NextGen FAA Implementation Plan

As of September 2012 and according to the US Government Accountability Office (2012), NextGen FAA had not yet fulfilled its commitment to cut down aircraft fuel consumption and flight time through the various technological procedures allegedly capable of reaping the benefits for all air transport systems. There was an earlier claim that the new air traffic management technology will save fuel, time, and other expenses worth $ 24 billion starting 2020. But the investment was expected reach $ 42 billion which the US government has appropriate  for the aviation industry (Levin, A. 2012).  US Congress has every right to question the government’s having to budget for a largely private aviation industry when there is supposed to be a $ Trillion private sector that should put their acts together in order to fund all the needed implementation of new technologies. And yet, the business sector blamed the lawyers in Congress for delaying the approval of budget for NextGen.

Up until January 2013, FAA NextGen was reported to encounter difficulties even with “policy and technology” issues related to the air traffic management upgrading (Schofield, A. 2013). Although the full implementation target was still in 2025, a couple of major parts of the foundation for the system deployment had been scheduled for completion in 2013. The FAA began its implementation of NextGen in 2004 or almost 10 years ago. And apparently, a program called ERAM or En-Route Automation Modernization had encountered a delay in the implementation. The ADS-B or Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast was 75% complete and appears on schedule for completion in 2013. But this was for the ADS-B Out only. There has been no ADS-B In where there is an anticipated greater benefit that can be gained out of  ADS-B In. This meant that owners of aircrafts needed to acquire the equipment which would contain the program and procedures for a successful ADS-B In.

USA government finally decided to cost cut its budget for the FAA according to the February 27 Washington Post (Kessler, G. 2013). In retaliation, the threat of closing 189 airport towers and retrenching 1,000 controllers were raised by the FAA. The Republicans cited the justification of keeping it open with a lower budget on the basis of having lower flights since the recession took place in 2008. An earlier February 22, 2013 news report confirmed (Pavgi, K. 2013) that cuts in the budget of the FAA would result in adversely affecting general aviation operators, the corporate aviation operators, and commercial aviation operators. in terms of safety, delays in arrivals, and cost inefficiencies. The primary reason given was the reduction in number of controllers of airports.

1.3. Objectives of this Study

This project first of all aims to establish the facts about USA’s NextGen FAA technology for the Aviation Industry. It answers the questions what the technology is all about, why it is new and better than the old process, how the system benefits members of the Aviation Industry in the USA, and at what cost? The introduction and implementation of something new usually comes with obstacles. Thus, those problems were also raised in order to see if there might be solutions available to overcome the barriers to progress through deployment of this new technology. Finally, to the extent possible, given the available information, this project attempts to recommend courses of action in favour of promoting the new technology and continuing its implementation in all the States, without having to retrench manpower similar to what will happen to the closure of 168 tower controllers by April 1, 2013.  And the basis for recommendations is an assumed availability of immediate solution which can be given a timetable of one year to become effective.

1.4. Hypothesis To Prove or Disprove

NextGen Project of the Federal Aviation Administration has been gradually changing the Aviation Industry for the benefit of the general public starting in the USA and gradually in the rest of the world. It has considerable advantages compared to the old way of controlling and facilitating the Air Travel. One of the major benefits would be safer travel by airplanes. The 2nd is lower cost of fuel consumption for the thousands of air transport systems. And due to faster and more accurate processing of information, the 3rd advantage is that the project will maximize utilization of the Air Industry resources like airports, air space, air travel time, all the means of transportation by air, radio control towers, and the Global Satellite Network (GSN), as well as professional pilots and tower controllers. As a result of this FAA NextGen Project, the old system of managing the Trillion Dollar Aviation Industry will eventually become obsolete as it would appear comparatively wasteful and more risky.

1.5. Research Limitations

This project does not dwell too much on the details of technology within the NextGen FAA system. Much of the FY 2011 Performance Assessment of the NextGen Implementation contained technical matters related to understanding what pilots are supposed to interpret while flying. No attempt was done to clarify all those reports or illustrations. More focus was done to highlight the benefits, including cost savings benefits, better safety, accuracy of flight manoeuvres and pilot decision making, and current problems that have hindered the progress of technology deployment in the USA. The budget for FAA has been a major issue with the US Congress because of the government’s need to cut expenses in order to balance the budget. This is the background information which required corresponding recommendations for immediate submission in order to possibly justify why there is no need to close 168 control towers by April 1, 2013. Although that was decided on by the Senate, perhaps the presence of clarifications found in this paper can provide more enlightenment why it is unnecessary.

II. Literature Review

2.1. General Facts About NextGen FAA

2.1.1. Definition of Terminologies

Justifying the billions of dollars being spent for the overhaul of a system for controlling aircraft traffic compelled the Federal Aviation Administration to submit a Performance Based Navigation (PBN) assessment report. As of the latest available comprehensive report, there is the 2011 NextGen Performance Assessment summary containing statistical data and analysis. This is used as source of relevant basis for disclosing important features and benefits of the NextGen technology. PBN is a collection of  “arrival and departure procedures” (FAA 2011) that form part of the new aircraft traffic control system in the USA.

There are many parts of the NextGen process that would have to be clarified. One of them is RNAV or Area of Navigation. This refers to the alternative path identifiable with the aid of satellite information relayed to pilots. Its purpose is to enable the pilots to determine the best alternative paths for safe and short travel.

Simulating the time for each arrival is processed by the NextGen system utilizing “Time-Based Flow Management (TBFM)” (FAA [5], 2013). What the TBFM does is that it predicts the time of arrival of each aircraft one hour before reaching the landing site and determines what is the accurate time for arrival such that there will not be any conflict between incoming flights. With the results of data analysis, the system will guide the pilot with the best alternative 4-dimensional route in terms of “latitude, longtitude, altitude, and time” and even speed.

How the satellite is able to gather data can be explained by ground-based radar called the “Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON)” (FAA [5], 2013). Information is then transmitted to the GPS network. In the future however, the satellite will do most of the work even without the radar.

Nextgen FAA Technology’s Implementation and Transformation Benefits

Figure 1 – NextGen Radar-Satellite Technology

[ Source: FAA [a] 2013. Wheels Down on NextGen’s Performance Snapshots. Federal Aviation Administration NextGen, Viewed March 20, 2013 @ http://www.faa.gov/nextgen/snapshots/slides/?slide=1 ]

“Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B)” is the program of NextGen which provides for better “safety, capacity, and efficiency in the National Airspace System” (FAA 2010). It enables pilots and controllers to view the air traffic situation wherein each aircraft is located. The program also informs them about the weather condition affecting flights. 445 radio stations in the USA alone are utilized along with the Global Positioning Satellite network to support the program implementation.

“Performance Based Navigation” or PBN is the collection of departure and arrival procedures that form part of the NextGen system. Within those procedures are the various systematic instructions (also called procedures) such as the approach procedures called the “Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS)”, and the the “Localizer Performance with Vertical Guidance (LPV) procedures. These sub-terminologies would be more meaningful to pilots and controllers, but not to readers who are simply trying to understand the NextGen system.

Traffic system of controls used to have only the Traffic Management Advisory or TMA. With the NextGen technology, an additional tool called Adjacent Center Metering or ACM made it possible for the coordinators to better manage the flow of arrivals in busy airports, by allowing them to view the aircraft traffic. The report says that aircrafts could fly at higher altitude as a result of implementing NextGen, thereby allowing for less fuel consumption (because at higher altitude, less fuel per mile is consumed). The ACM tool has enabled the coordinators to discover that airplanes have been travelling shorter distance and at less flying time through the NextGen technology. (FAA 2011, p.7)

Another tool is for the control of air traffic safety. NextGen provides the Automnated Terminal Proximity Alert or ATPA system which gives aircraft traffic managers an opportunity to immediately see a need for adjustments in the spacing of airport landing area during the approach. (FAA 2011, p.8)

2.1.2 How the New System of NextGen Works

The way airplanes transport passengers and cargo has been very inefficient. It used to be limited to the use of ground-based radars. Routes have to follow a direction wherever the control towers are located in order to avoid air traffic accidents with the guidance of controllers on the ground. Oftentimes, this means not taking the shortest possible route. It also means staying up in the air longer than necessary in order to practice safe procedures during travelling and before landing. Pilots have to get clearance from the radio control towers to be assured of no air traffic, available landing space, favourable weather, and proper timing of arrival. Without such a clearance, pilots have to wait for a go signal and set of instructions from the control tower while the plane runs on fuel for more minutes of waiting time. From the standpoint of business firms, the old way of travelling and transporting by air has resulted in countless delays and opportunity losses due to flight delays. More on the cost benefits will be presented in greater details in Part II. of this project.

With the NextGen Project implementation, the Global Satellite Network System (GPNS) will be the latest technology for pilots to be guided about the safest and fastest route to a destination. Air space coverage of options will be broader. There will be no need to fly over a nearby radio control station, because the accessibility of controllers will stay the same even though the flight is not near the physical radio control towers. Satellite information will be quick and accurate. Weather monitoring real time can enable the pilot to avoid bad or simply risky weather conditions. Shorter routes can be taken. Quick information about the availability of landing area and procedures for landing will be available as soon as the plane is ready to land. Airports will be able to accommodate more planes arriving with the help of the system information via satellite. And as a result of shorter routes and faster landing facilitations, the cost of fuel will be reduced.

Conflicting flight paths will be greatly reduced. A very concrete example given was that of Las Vegas airports where the Area Navigation (RNAV) procedures generated by the satellite provided for accurate paths without causing air traffic and delaying flight schedules. In the experiences of managing the flow of incoming and outgoing airplanes, it took away 10 minutes of waiting time from the pilot, thereby reducing the cost of fuel as a result of being up in the air just to wait for a turn. (FAA [1], 2013)

In Chicago Midway Airport, the Required Navigation Performance (RNP) procedures shortened flight time by 2 minutes without delays for a flight distance of 40 miles from O’Hare International Airport to Midway, with better capacity utilization, and with no reduction in number of arrivals. (FAA [1], 2013)

The actual experience of NextGen benefits in Colorado where there used to be 75 flights delayed daily from November to April each year, led to the use of NextGen’s “Wide Area Multilateration (WAM)” (FAA [2], 2013). This is a technology which uses remote sensors to allow the pilots to find a path to the airport that is not much disturbed by the weather during the Winter Season. Delays were reduced to zero. It was not only a satellite guided technology but also supported by ground radars in a wider area.

At Phoenix International Airport, airplanes are able to utilize a different cost saving technology made possible by accurate data provided by NextGen systems. It is called the “Optimized Profile Descents {OPD)” (FAA [3], 2013). The NextGen OPD technology allows incoming airplanes to glide using less fuel instead of follow the pattern of conventional landing procedures which is much like a “stair-step” descent that causes more fuel consumption. By facilitating 1,200 aircrafts and 800 cargo planes per day with OPD system upon reaching 150 miles distance from the airport, the cost savings was found to hit “$ 14,7 million per year” (FAA [3], 2013}.

In Alaska’s Juneau international airport where the surroundings are mostly mountainous, flights often encounter poor visibility and posed a high risk travel for those who have to land on the airport. Pilots find it either “difficult or impossible to navigate” (FAA [4], 2013) whenever they do not see the surroundings and the airport itself. But because of the Global Positioning Satellite, pilots are able to follow a safe path accurately without having to know what might be surrounding the airways. As a result of this technology, Alaska saved “$ 15 million a year” by not diverting some flights or cancelling them due to low visibility.

Nextgen FAA Technology’s Implementation and Transformation Benefits

2.1.3 Cost Implications

Annual reports by the FAA tend to be very technical and not converted from highly technical language and presentation to a standard business report. What the people and representatives in Congress are interested to see has been the cost savings and financial benefits in dollar figures. But the annual reports have not shown how theoretical cost savings are actually being realized after almost 10 years of improving the aircraft traffic management. For example, in the FY 2012 Performance & Accountability Report, none other than the Chief Financial Officer of the FAA communicated budget uncertainty. There was mention of cost reduction effort but no value in dollars was specified to represent how much costs were reduced in exchange for what benefits.(FAA 2012, p.67)

2.1.4 Short-to-Long Term Benefits

The longest basis for discussion in this project is the FY 2012 Performance Accountability Report of the Department of Transportation for the FAA. As of the latest 2012 report, FAA had reported budget limitations to pursue more capital investments for NextGen (FAA 2012, p.127). Decisions are pending discovery of benefits from NextGen coming from the capital investments already deployed. One of the resentments encountered was “that the ground-based automation system (GBAS) did not provide a strong enough benefits case to proceed with further deployment and acquisition” (p.127).

At the same time, FAA admits to continually supporting the GBAS. The reason is to gain experiences with their usefulness. The impact on controllers in terms of providing automation was not yet established due to funds constraints. What has been more important was the effort to quantify the benefits of having NextGen system. As of the 2012 report, it was not clear how the administration will achieve such quantification both in the short run and in the long run.

2.2 Implications, Problems, and Opportunities With NextGen FAA

A very specific performance assessment was done for the Raleigh-Durham International Airport to setermne the impact of implementing NextGen, and more particularly by using the features of Area Navigation or RNAV.  The airport itself normally undertakes 15,600 operations related to RNAV monthly. Commercial planes tended to travel at higher altitude as a result of having RNAV support. There were less communications initiated with controllers of the airport. However, only 10% of the flights utilized the RNAV technology in  the Raleigh-Durham Internatinal Airport. An even lower implementation rate of only 3.3% of flights was observed in Henderson Executive Airport.

III. Methodology

            Due to the fact that NextGen of the Federal Aviation Administration is a recent technology, many terminologies, particularly acronyms, were first defined in order to avoid defining the same in different parts of this project. It is by first defining each acronym that one can comprehend the descriptive narratives pertaining to those terminologies.

Descriptive narratives will clarify what the NextGen FAA system’s technology is all about. This is composed of elaborating on the big picture which covers the entire technology and also the parts of the system which is individually explained as to specific importance, functions, and interconnection with the whole system. As this latest air traffic technology is described, multiple benefits and advantages over the old system are mentioned.

In order to show the cost savings benefits of NextGen FAA, there would have to be a presentation of the performance metrics against which actually incurred cost and revenue are compared with the old system. However, this depends on the availability of information about costs and revenue. Furthermore, identification of the impact on pilots, controllers, the Aviation Industry, businesses, environment, and other factors worth mentioning has been done to enlighten readers about changes and their effects. Statistical analysis was made possible by the available annual performance report. Since this is the major issue facing FAA while under scrutiny by Congress, research was performed to identify the factors that contribute to successful quantification and/or failure to quantify benefits for NextGen Technologies.

FAA informative materials about NextGen were researched via Google Search Engine, and then critically reviewed to examine the merits of evaluations in terms of cost benefits and other benefits. Depending on the findings and results of analysis, corresponding discussions related to the importance, cost benefits, and other benefits are found in this project.

IV. Findings & Analysis

Unfortunately, the most recent and only available performance assessment report had clearly stated that there was a problem with the percentage of implementation which was way below the desired critical basis for computing advantages in terms of savings. Per airport assessed in the 2011, the conclusions of said performance report insofar as cost savings is concerned were as follows:

[1] For the Raleigh-Durham International Airport, there was no coast savings or financial benefits disclosed (FAA 2011, p.5)

[2] For the Henderson Executive Airport, there was no cost savings or financial benefits disclosed (FAA 2011, p.6).

[3] For the Charleston Air Force Base / International Airport, there was no disclosure of the cost savings or financial benefits (FAA 2011, p.6).

[4] For the Denver International Airport, there was also no cost savings or financial benefits disclosed (FAA 2011, p.7).

[5] For the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, although there was mention of fuel efficiency, there was no disclosure of coast savings or financial benefits in the same assessment report (FAA 2011, p.7).

[6] For the Newark Liberty International Airport, there was also mention of fuel savings but no mention of cost savings or financial benefits (FAA 2011, pp.7-8).

Therefore, on the overall, this 2011 FAA NextGen Performance Report failed to deliver on its commitment to arrive at cost savings and financial benefits after 7 to 8 years of implementation. This became the basis of Congress for deciding to cut the budget of the FAA. It can be argued, however, that producers of the 2011 Performance Report should have simply taken the effort to compute for cost savings based on their own statements about fuel efficiency or fuel savings. Also, in the oral arguments in Congress, no senior official rectified the “error” of that performance report by presenting the approximate cost savings and financial benefits based on the few airports’ actual performance. This amounted to a confirmation that there was negligible cost savings or financial benefits for all those airports assessed even when combined.

In January 2013, the websites of FAA launched updated information showing cost savings of $ 15 million per year in Alaska’s Juneau International Airport, and coast savings of $14.7 million per year in Phoenix International Airport. But these were not part of the 2011 Performance Assessment Report of the FAA.

In 2011, the FAA budget was $ 16.4 billion. When one traces the breakdown of that budget at the time it was approved, $ 9.7 billion was for operations which included $ 7.6 billion to fund air traffic controllers, $ 1.3 billion for risk control, $ 0.8 billion for the other functions $3.3 billion was meant for equipment purchases and $3.4 billion was also meant for futher investments in the Air Traffic Control Industry. (Edward, C. and Poole, R. Jr. 2010). Looking back at the FAA Operations budget  from 2008 to 2013, details showed the following: (Kessler, G. 2013)

FAA Operations Budget

FY 2008  $ 8.74 billion FY 2011  $ 9.513 billion
FY 2009  $ 9.042 billion FY 2012  $ 9.653 billion
FY 2010  $ 9.350 billion FY 2013

But the total FAA Budget in the same years were as follows:

FAA Total Budget 2008 – 2012 (including Operations Budget)

FY 2008   $ 14.9 billion (FAA 2009) FY 2011  $ 15.9 billion (FAA [2] 2011, p.10)
FY 2009   $ 16.7 billion (FAA [2] 2010) FY 2012  $ 16.1 billion (FAA 2012, p.ii)
FY 2010   $ 15.9 billion requested (FAA [2] 2010, p.6) FY 2012

It is very obvious that when US Congress deliberated on budget cuts for the FAA, the Department of Transportation pointed to the immediate negative impact on Operations by reducing the tower controllers, when the truth was that there were less urgent portions of the budget which could be temporarily stopped due to the recession. The Operations Budget should have been the last allocation to be sacrificed because the quality of normal operation would be sacrificed. In the news, no mention of the other major parts of the budget, e.g. Research, Engineering, & Development (R,E & D) worth $ 167.5 million, Facilities & Equipment improvement program (F&E) worth $ 2.73 billion , Airport Improvement Program (AIP) worth $3.5 billion, was made. Surprisingly, the Department of Trade Secretary made Congress believe that it would be the Operations budget portion of the FAA budget that would undergo priority cuts.

In March 1,2013 Ahlers, M. (2013) publicized the news that the US Department of Transportation would start closing 168 towers starting April 1, 2013. Those that would be closed consists of  “small and medium-size airports” control towers handling “5.8% of all commercial airline traffic and considerably more business and private airplane traffic.” The airports themselves will not be closed. Only the control towers will not have manpower to facilitate departures and arrivals.

This paper was able to show how Operations budget of the FAA do not have to be reduced. The priority for reduction should have been on the side of non-operating expenses in order to maintain the services to the greater majority of people who are supposed to be benefitting from the 168 control towers. It is sad to mention that this angle of argument was not even scrutinized and made public, as though something is being hidden about non-Operations budget. Lack of transparency and lack of sequestration plan was also cited by the AOPA or  Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (Fuller, C. 2013). AOPA asked if there are available options other than affecting the employment of controllers. But nothing in the news mentioned anything about those non-Operations expenses which should be debated upon for reasons of having lower priority in an economic crisis. One can imagine that ongoing technological improvements worth billions of dollars can be postponed. But why deprive people and the business communities their basic benefits from small to medium sized airports while facilities, equipment, and new technologies will be added into FAA at the same time? Somebody from within the government has yet to represent the voice of those whose employment and business benefits will be trampled on by the sequestration – somebody who is familiar with the details of the FAA budget for 2013.

Assuming the theoretical benefits of NextGen FAA are accurate except that it will take some time for the pilots to learn how to utilize the technologies and some airlines still have to secure the necessary equipment to be able to harness the benefits of the new technology, its implementation can be pursued in some of the airports while in other airports, it can be temporarily stopped due to lack of budget. That means budget cuts can come from R, E, & D and F&E instead of closing airport controllers and depriving a thousand people of their jobs. Further investigation should be pursued to identify who and how many will be affected by cost cutting the Non-Operations side of the budget.

Theoretically, NextGen FAA should benefit from the following technologies, namely, (a)ADS-B or Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast, (b)CATMT – Collaborative Air Traffic Mgt. Technology, (c) DC – Data Communication, (d) NNEW – NextGen Network Enabled Weather, (e) NASVS – National Airspace System Voice System, (f)SWIM – System Wide Information Management, and (g) AIRE – Atlantic Interoperability Initiative to Reduce Emissions. ADS-B is based on the utilization of Global Positioning System on board wherein pilots are able to view the positions of other aircrafts in the sky. The satellite is able to identify every aircraft and generate an identification code for each one along with its position in terms of course, altitude, and speed.. A plane will need a Universal Access Transreceiver (UAT) with about 1 Ghz processing speed. Their access to the satellite also allows them to receive more information about the flight environment within 15 km. radius, e.g. where is the shortest route to the destination, awareness of the situation in the air through GPS as to the altitude, weather broadcast, and procedures to take. For aircrafts to realize such benefits, each one would need to be equipped with GPS and transponder (UAT), and front panel monitor devices.

CATMT is a set of technologies to enhance accuracy of decision making by the pilots with the sharing of data from traffic management, controllers, and other pilots. For example, the pilot will be informed about available arrival slots in cases when there might be uncertainty of available space for landing at the airport, air traffic conditions especially during bad weather conditions, and re-route alternative plans in a situation wherein bad weather is present in the usual route.

DC or DataComm is the process of Controllers communicating digital data to the flight crew in order to improve efficiency of aircraft travel. The present is via voice communication from tower controllers to pilots. Furthermore, the digital communication to pilots will also feed the pilots’ management information system during flights. This is expected to reduce delays in schedules of flights, facilitate achievement of efficiency air traffic management, and improve travel safety. Theoretically, all these should reap cost savings in terms of fuel consumption and will also result in shorter travel time. (FAA [8] 2013)

There will be a different voice communication system under the NextGen because the basis of information will no longer be based solely on what the controllers can see and what the ground-based radars can detect but also by the GPS and shared information coming from many pilots plus controllers. The technology called NAS Voice System “is scheduled to be operational by the year 2016” (FAA [9] 2013)

NNEW technology comes wth the participation of many sources of weather analysis, namely, FAA AJP, the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, National Centers for Atmospheric Research, NOAA Earth Systems Research Laboratory, MITRE, NOAA National Weather Service, and JPDO (FAA [2] 2009, p.4). Pilots are sent data about the weather. With the communications also received for purposes of re-routing, bad weather can be avoided in order to ensure safe travel, and alternative safe routes can be decided upon by the pilots. Following is a diagram of how the NNEW system works.

Nextgen FAA Technology’s Implementation and Transformation Benefits

Figure 3 _ NextGen Network Enabled Weather

[Source: FAA [2] (2009), p.3]

System Wide Information Management or SWIM refers to the Information Technology  Infrastructure that will be responsible for all the data processing so as to make the procedures very serviceable to all those who aim for safe travel. It was projected to result in lower cost of information although at higher processing speed. of real-time information for the provision of timely data. Whereas under the old system, many computer users had to communicate with each other in order to generate accurate information, with the SWIM, the information is processed in a central data processing equipment for all the users to utilize even if they have to use the system simultaneouosly. The complete SWIM system will be completed only by 2017. (FAA [3] 2010, p.10)

Finally, the AIRE or Atlantic Interoperability Initiative to Reduce Emissions is a technological effort to reduce air pollutants as per international agreements with the European Union (EU) commission for the promotion of green environment worldwide. With the NextGen technologies in place, the reduction in fuel usage due to shorter distance travel and more efficient air traffic management will lead to lower air pollution. Unfortunately, the recent implementation of  NextGen procedures could not yet realize time and cost savings primarily because of non-compliance with recommended procedures for the pilots. This may be understandable for some time because the system is new and most people who will partake in the changes will be needing more time to adjust.

V. Discussion

5.1 Basis for Appreciating FAA’s NextGen & How Benefits Can Be Quantified

The new technology of NextGen is supposed to benefit owners of aircrafts through the improvements in airport services and air traffic management safety and efficiency. There should be quantitative financial benefits for FAA if and when the organization decides to “enrol” each of the aircraft into the system and provide the pilots with corresponding education and simulation training services to upgrade their skills. Another source of income for the FAA would be the provision of recommended on-board devices that will allow the pilots to tap the satellite network facilities, view the actual, real-time air traffic situation, and the program which will guide the pilots to safely and accurately perform their job to transport passengers and/or cargo to their destination at the shortest possible time and with negligible risk even during times of bad weather in some locations.

5.2 Why NextGen Budget Became A Problem

An economic constraint has obliged the FAA to temporarily discontinue parts of its developments to deploy the technology throughout the USA. Since late 2008 up to the present time, the USA experienced high unemployment rates. And the government is heavily indebted and facing a difficult situation as to how debts can be gradually reduced as the budget is balanced annually. With high unemployment rate, less people are able to pay taxes which should contribute to the growth rate of the country. The recession of 2008 trimmed down the business performance of almost all companies, including the Aviation Industry in the USA. Very recently, a major export market of USA businesses, which happens to be Europe, was reported to have entered a period of recession. This means less export business can be transacted by the US corporations in Europe until such time that recession is over for the EU.

The USA budget is affected by economic conditions both within America and in countries that are the trading partners abroad. In the government’s effort to balance the budget each year, sources of revenue are determined and the amounts of inflows are forecasted. Based on a lower forecast, government expenditures have to be controlled to a lower figure. FAA generates revenues but also receives a budget from the government. Its main mission is to facilitate safe travel via air transport from point of departure to point of arrival. Thus, one means to lower the risk of accidents, miscalculations, delays, and other possible sources of losses, is by utilizing better technology. This new technology came to be known as NextGen. Its main feature is the use of a Global Satellite Network to gather accurate data about air transport management traffic with the help of ground-based radar. How FAA can generate additional revenue out of the new technology deployment or cut its cost to generate cost savings are the present questions not yet resolved. A set of recommendations are presented under Part V – Recommendations to possibly help resolve this issue.

5.3 Theoretical Benefits for the US Aviation Industry

Logically, as soon as the pilots of aircrafts utilize the NextGen systems, the owners of planes will save some cost of fuel, realize faster and safer travel, and will be better assured of safe travel with the help of the new technologies. But such financial gains will directly benefit the aircraft owners, the pilots, the controllers, and the aviation industry. The very reason why FAA cannot claim their financial benefits as cost saving for FAA or higher revenue for FAA is because NextGen was designed to give direct financial benefits to the members of the Aviation Industry. Statistics show the number of flights that take place per year in the USA.

Nextgen FAA Technology’s Implementation and Transformation Benefits

Figure 2 – No. of Flights: US & Foreign Carriers in All US Airports

[ Source: Bureau of Transportation Statistics T-100 Segment Data, Rita – Research and Innovative Technology Administration, BOT, Viewed March 21, 2013 @ http://www.transtats.bts.gov/Data_Elements.aspx?Data=2 ]

As can be seen from the statistics of flights from 2008 to 2012, there was a declining number for both Domestic Flights and International Flights at all the airports combined. The cost savings of aircraft owners can be computed on the assumption that each flight saves several hundred dollars worth of fuel by reducing travel time and delays in landing. According to Airlines.for America (A4A 2013), the average fuel cost per minute of delay was approximately $37.23 as of 2011. Since FAA’s NextGen shortens the time to wait for the go signal to land by about 10 minutes per aircraft, the approximate cost savings without delay would be $ 372 per flight. And so, in 2012, the potential cost savings for all the flights combined after full implementation of the NextGen technology in all US airports will be $372 x 9 million flights or a total cost savings of $ 3.3 billion per year.

5.4  In The Interest of National Security & Safer Air Travel

What appears to be happening is that the US FAA has been adding benefits for all the members of the Aviation Industry without having any other entity share in the burden of further improving it and maintaining the NextGen system. Those airports which have NextGen FAA programs in place can serve as pilot projects just to prove the theoretical benefits described prior to the implementation of the plan.

Nextgen FAA Technology’s Implementation and Transformation Benefits

[Source: Airlines for America. Viewed March 22, 2013 @ http://www.airlines.org/Pages/Annual-and-Per-Minute-Cost-of-Delays-to-U.S.-Airlines.aspx ]

On top of the lower risk of miscalculations by pilots (because of the accurate guidance provided by satellite database for aircraft traffic, weather, and landing area), the aircraft owners will be able to arrive on time and avoid unnecessary delays.

But the NextGen FAA is not yet fully deployed. Only parts of the program have been finished. And so, what FAA can do is compute on the basis of number of flights actually benefitting considering only the airports with NextGen technologies which benefit the owners of aircraft and passengers and pilots. The latest websites of FAA were able to compute for the estimated cash savings. Therefore, it is actually possible to determine the cost savings. One other problem needs to be resolved, namely, the benefits on the side of FAA. In Part II of this paper, more specifically 2.1.2, there are concrete examples of airports already realizing the cost savings and higher grade of safety consciousness with the aid of accurate data coming from the satellite. Those airports should be used as models when FAA takes the effort to also upgrade the knowledge of aircraft owners and their technical representatives, pilots, assistant pilots, and whoever needs to be informed. Even passengers should know the developments.

Obviously, FAA can no longer afford another free ride in exchange for the new technological knowhow. It is time for the Department of Transportation to realize that the FAA is not a charitable institution out to keep improving the services for the Aviation Industry to add value to each dollar of excise tax paid by the private sector. Adding more proof about the benefits of NextGen’s newly deployed technologies may be continuously free of charge. However, adding more services in the light of the need for so many people to learn how to use the system for their own benefit, e.g. for the benefit of educating the pilots, the aircraft owners, and their representatives will most probably incur additional costs on the part of FAA. Thus, there will have to be a logical agenda to recover all those costs. As a matter of fact, FAA can earn extra income from such educational initiatives by first of all generating a series of seminars with simulators. Then those required to acquire knowledge about the latest development and those who are interested to be aware of the presence of the new system ought to be invited – not free of charge. Funds should be raised also in the interest of national security through greater control over all flights entering and leaving the country and through the promotion of safer air travel.

One constructive criticism about the 2013 Business Plan (FAA [7] 2013) created by the FAA is the fact that it shows no initiative to generate revenue. In any business, there should be adequate source of funds. Especially in the case of NextGen FAA where the government has already invested billions of dollars for the implementation of NextGen FAA, its business has something new, valuable, and important to offer to owners of airlines and aircrafts. Furthermore, the price of that technology per flight is something that each pilot can more than recover by properly utilizing the NextGen FAA procedures which will reduce their cost of fuel aside from realize many other benefits. The FY 2013 Business Plan of FAA should be revised to contain that potential income within a year which was shown in this paper to be approximately $ 1.8 billion at the rate of $ 200 per flight.

VI. Recommendation

6.1 Recommendations To Recover Costs of Capital Investments

Given the millions of flights over the skies of the USA and the anticipated minimum cost savings in fuel alone as a result of the NextGen technology, billions can be raised to prevent closure of the 168 control towers, and to continue with the developments of higher technologies in the interest of national security and safer air travel. How is this possible?

First, the aircraft owners should be made aware of the minimum and maximum cost savings benefits on top of the features of NextGen FAA for safer air travel. All countries should be notified. Each of the aircraft owners in every country should be invited into a “Web-based Orientation” not free of charge. The income out of this promotion does not have to be substantial. What is important will be that those who should be made aware of the benefits of NextGen FAA in the USA are familiarized with the cost savings minimum and maximum per flight.

Second, there ought to be a more private, offline orientation of the aircraft owners, pilots, and co-pilots that should be initiated by the FAA. This will require its IT security officers and NextGen Flight Technology officers to travel from one country to another after an organizer adept with security measures for the Aviation Industry within the country successfully arranges a “closed-door” seminar about new security features whenever flying over USA skies. The reason for having such a “closed-door” seminar is to prevent unauthorized people from knowing more about the NextGen FAA security measures intended to identify terrorist attempts at hijacking aircrafts and using USA airspace. One important feature that can be easily added into the NextGen technology pertains to the access to satellite database. Only authorized pilots may access the system. And the time to test availability of access is before departure and while in the air. An example of a logical security feature is that each authorized pilot should have a registered “pair of passwords”. One password will be for the purpose of securing clearance upon verification by the NextGen system. The other password will be to alert the people in charge of security about a security breach and threat against the life of a pilot. Hijackers will think the password is correct because of the access to the NextGen system. In reality, the Security Personnel will be forewarned that a pilot has sent a distress signal so that preventive measures can be initiated long before a flight pushes through.

Third, the services to transition the members of the Aviation Industry who will be affected by the changes in the light of a new technology, will not be free of charge. Those benefitting will have to share in the cost of changes. In a way, it is compulsory for all who wish to enter the USA skies at least. The benefits go beyond USA skies and are in fact global. But for those who will fly over the USA skies and eventually utilize USA airports, registration into the system is a must. Anyone who tries to enter USA skies without clearance will be suspected of being a threat to national security. The 9/11 World Trade Center bombing ought to serve as a lesson. Each flight over USA sky is monitored by the NextGen FAA satellite for better aircraft traffic management and also to assure Americans that it is not an impending troublemaker for the people below.

Every flight over the USA sky will eventually be with the assistance of NextGen FAA technology. Someday, it will be automated. The flight coordinates and sequence of following them can eventually be controlled by the system itself to ensure accurate compliance with security measures and safe travel. In the meantime, all the members of the Aviation Industry would have to cooperate in the process of getting to that advanced stage. Funding should not be a problem if many contribute to its development. And so, each flight may be charged $ 200 per registration of the pilot using the authorized password into the NextGen FAA system. This will translate into the following:

NextGen FAA Access Fee = $ 200 per flight x 9,000,000 flights per year = $ 1.8 billion for 2013 additional income.

Webinars may be accessible for online access of invited members of the industry. It should contain a series of simulations using the various technological equipments made available by NextGen FAA. All those learning to fly, all the pilots, aircraft owners, and even programmers who would like to study the system may pay a fee for the educational series of  educational materials. However, the computation for total potential income out of this is difficult to ascertain since it is optional.

Those who have attended the Webinar Series about NextGen will realize that all those who pay per flight over USA sky will actually be able to recover what they paid for by simply becoming familiar with the ways to reduce cost of fuel. As earlier mentioned, there will be less travel time and less waiting time to land on the airport. A standard cost savings idea which was actually observed is by shortening the time of being on the air by at least 10 minutes. It will save $300 per flight. All the other benefits like time savings, no delays, shorter route, and lower risk of air traffic accident will be on top of the cost savings.

6.2 Recommended Performance Enhancers & Backup Equipment

All aircraft should have compatible, on-board flight computers that will easily link to the NextGen FAA System. A recommended portable back-up that may be plugged into the cockpit in case a problem with the built-in gadgets actually takes place. All these computers can come from FAA to ensure software contents are not corrupted with hacking cookies which can be activated anytime while in use. Once again, there ought to be a price for such computers out of which the FAA should be able to raise more funds. And the package should at least inform buyers that it will not work for aircrafts that are not registered with the NextGen system. If registered, only authorized pilots can access the NextGen FAA satellite program. Many other security measures can be developed to screen the users of the technology.

Another major opportunity for the FAA to harness more funding can be explored and tapped as soon as its Marketing Experts are able to orient all other countries about the benefits actually being realized in the USA. NextGen FAA Technology, just like Microsoft technology and the computer hardware technology in their early years, can be extended to benefit arrivals and departures in 199 more countries worldwide. The revenues out of accepting more members into the system can well be a major source of income for USA. A schedule of all the flights worldwide is monitored by the Institute of Applied Information Technology at Zurich University. In one sample day, they identified 93,000 flights coming from 9,000 airports worldwide (Flixxy.com, 2013). Per year, this means nearly 34 million flights per year or a potential market for NextGen FAA amounting to nearly $ 68 billion in one year, assuming the service fee per flight and access to NextGen is $200.

6.3 Recommended Reporting System Should Attempt to Quantify Cost Savings

One of the difficulties encountered by the government officials in Congress is the excessive technical presentation of findings about the implementation of NextGen technologies. What would be more important to see is how all those technical matters translate to cost savings and other understandable performance metrics like [a] capacity utilization improvements in the different airports implementing the technologies, [b] results in terms of timeliness of arrivals and departures, [c] travel time saved compared to the time when no such NextGen system was available, [d] percentage progress of NextGen systems deployment and implementation compared to previous year, [e] cumulative percent of completion of the entire project in a specific airport, [f] number of pilots complying with the procedures provided by the NextGen system, [g] number of pilots who need further training and orientation based on failures to comply, [h] number of aircrafts fully equipped with recommended devices that are synchrionized with the system, [i] percentage of  Tower Controllers fully oriented with the proper utilization of NextGen for improvements in their performance at work, [j] computations of fuel savings based on feedback reports of each and every pilot. The reports should state whether or not the pilots have been trained and instructed to fully cooperate by submitting feedback reports containing their share of performance metrics. Although the pilots are not under the control of FAA, in matters of program implementation related to safety and efficiency, they owe NextGen system the required feedback to refine the system itself or to identify who among the pilots need further training in order to achieve cost savings in fuel or to have a better understanding of how to improve their future flights.

In the matter of establishing the facts about cost savings, although FAA conducted a study of the performance of airports in 2011, more specifically involving [a] Raleigh-Durham International Airport, [b] Henderson Executive Airport, [c] Charleston Air Force Base / International Airport, [d] Chicago Midway International Airport, [e] Denver International Airport , and [f]San Francisco Bay Area. The criterion for performance assessment was not cost savings but compliance with procedures. If there was lack of compliance, it only means the pilots need training and some convincing about the need to comply in order to enjoy the benefits of technological changes. For [b] Henderson, there was mention of shorter time of arrival and low conformance to procedures recommended by the system. But there was no mention about the cost savings. Other criteria were introduced. Unfortunately, such criteria are not as important to the investors compared to the cost savings benefits. One example of a not-so-important criteria mentioned in the report was the frequency of interaction with the traffic controllers. Non-conformance to recommended procedures was once more cited. The same non-conformance was high in [c] Charleston It should be mentioned at this point that it is obviously not the fault of FAA if the pilots of airline owners fail to conform to recommended procedures meant to lower the costs. As a matter of fact, this could be precisely the reason why each flight should have a price, so that users of the latest technology will take the effort to learn how to gain out of following instructions of the new technology and recover the flight registration fee by cost saving. What was reported in the performance assessment did not meet the requirement of government officials in Congress because the writer and also the manager who must have edited the contents of the report considered those criteria which would not be of value to the Congressmen who understood performance as cost savings. This is supposed to be about FAA’s Performance as the title shows “FAA’s NextGen Performance Assessment. Instead, the writer assessed the pilots’ compliance and failed to link their non-compliance with cost savings. If the findings of non-compliance were used as a reason for failure to achieve cost savings, then recommended measures should have been stated. And the reason to be emphasized is so that their compliance can achieve cost savings for their companies. One remedial measure to further assist the pilots in achieving the desired fuel and time savings would be another service that FAA would have to initiate. And it is the proper orientation of each and every pilot even if the pilots are not the employees of FAA. Such service will once again justify the cost of utilizing the NextGen technologies and information dissemination.

Conclusions

The USA NextGen Aviation Technology was approved for funding since the year 2004 with a target budget of $ 40 billion to secure and deploy equipment and let contractors initiate and develop the ground-based radars and link them with the outer space satellites. There were delays in the implementation since then. The list of delayed implementation is found in Appendix A. Parts of the deployment are on track. The system taps the capability of Global Satellite Networks to gather data from aircrafts in the skies, currently with assistance of ground-based radars also linked to the satellite. Data is processed accurately and then supplied to pilots for their use as guide in choosing the safest and shortest route to a destination. It allows pilots to take their flight to a higher altitude where fuel consumption is less. Furthermore, the system accounts for weather conditions to provide options where the weather and clouds are more conducive to safe travel. Long before the plane reaches its destination, data is communicated to the airport where it is supposed to land, so that preparations are made and no waiting time for gradual descent and landing is wasted. Delays are avoided with the aid of computerized data processing. Fuel savings are realizable out of less travelling time, no waiting time for smooth arrival, and the available options to fly at higher altitude where less fuel is consumed.

A few airports have proven the benefits of higher technology of aircraft traffic management. Alaska’s Juneau International Airport, Phoenix International Airport, Chicago Midway Airport, and Las Vegas Airports are among those which can be cited as actual examples of benefitting US airports. Others are still in the early stages of deployment.

Economic downturns have caused the government to look into ways and means to cut costs or budget from the FAA. In response, the people in FAA have preferred to close down 168 Control Towers serving small to medium sized airports. What should have been the proper reaction was greater initiative by the management of FAA to raise its revenues using NextGen system as a leverage in dealing with owners of airlines and aircrafts. This project has shown a very specific way of raising $ 1.8 billion funds inflow with prior arrangements concerning pilots and owners of airlines and smaller aircrafts. Extra effort on the part of those presenting the benefits of NextGen system should make the collection per flight very justifiable. This is not to be seen as cash payments prior to flying. Since the NextGen system is computerized and the pilots are supposed to be made aware of the system, there will be a record of   “receivables” from the owners of aircrafts. They will have time to pay later. And again, FAA should assign its Marketing Group to send bills and collect on a periodic basis. 

As of the latest FAA FY 2012 Performance & Accountability Report, the Consolidated Statements of Net Position, there is no indication of any effort to generate revenue out of using the NextGen GSN Technology for the benefit of the airlines and other aircrafts. There was no report of the fact that each aircraft can, in fact, be supplied with the means to access the NextGen GSN Technology for every flight from one destination to another. FAA ought to consider this angle of raising funds instead of depending purely on government appropriations on a yearly basis. There is something to offer to aircraft owners. As a matter of fact, the government can compel each flight to utilize the new GSN Technology as early as possible for aircraft owners to be obliged to train their pilots about the way to cost save on fuel by following procedures of the NextGen GSN Technology.

The usual government taxes for other facilities should be retained of course. What should be emphasized is the need to utilize the new technology in order to save on fuel and contribute to a greener environment. And the use of that new technology is not free because the government is investing billions of dollars to implement hardware acquisition and deployment as well as software programming up to the future stage of automation. Effort on the part of FAA management would have to be exerted to train and develop the Aviation Industry members to utilize these resources partly fpr the purpose of stronger national air space security.

References
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Appendix
  • List of Delayed Implementation Sections of NextGen FAA With Corresponding Explanations [ Source: Dixon, Lou E. (2012). Progress and Challenges With FAA’s Facility Consolidation Effort. US Department of Transportation, p. 10. May 31, 2012. Viewed March 22, 2013@ http://www.oig.dot.gov/sites/dot/files/Facility%20Consolidation%20Statement%5E5-31-12.pdf ]

Nextgen FAA Technology’s Implementation and Transformation Benefits

Nextgen FAA Technology’s Implementation and Transformation Benefits

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