FAA strengthens NextGen organization, focuses on technology

WASHINGTON, 11 Oct. 2012. “The FAA cannot implement NextGen in a vacuum,” acknowledges Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Acting Administrator Michael Huerta. “This is a public-private partnership. Aviation has always been about innovation and it has always been about collaboration.”

Huerta, in his keynote speech at the Air Traffic Control Association’s (ATCA’s) annual conference and exposition in National Harbor, Md., drove home the need for collaboration—among government and industry, unions and other team members, and among aviation professionals on the ground and in the air.

“Collaboration is key to making NextGen a reality now,” Huerta continues. “We have learned lessons from the past regarding our large acquisition programs and we have developed best practices moving forward.

“We have elevated and strengthened our NextGen organization, and we have created a new Program Management Organization specifically focused on implementing major technology programs,” Huerta says. Among the programs is En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM), the goal of which is to replace the 40-year-old En Route Host computer and backup system at 20 FAA Air Route Traffic Control Centers nationwide. “The transition to ERAM is one of the most complex, challenging, and ambitious programs deployed by FAA in recent times,” says an FAA spokesperson.

“This new approach, as well as our improved working relationship with our unions, is already showing results,” Huerta admits. “ERAM is operating at nine en route centers around the country—nearly half of the 20 centers where we plan to use it—and six centers are using ERAM continuously as the primary technology to direct air traffic. This sets the stage for better use of more NextGen capabilities, such as ADS-B.

“We’re already controlling traffic in the Gulf of Mexico using ADS-B, where it’s providing benefits to helicopter operators there,” Huerta notes. “ERAM will allow greater use of ADS-B nationwide. In addition, we’re testing ADS-B technology in Boston on vehicles at the airport to improve runway safety. Some vehicles will have an [Apple] iPad that receives a surface surveillance picture like the ADSE-X display that is available to air traffic controllers.

“Controllers, pilots, and vehicle operators, when using the right equipment, will see the same picture of the airport surface. This will reduce the potential for runway conflicts. NextGen is moving us to the day when everyone will be on the same page.” Huerta predicts.


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