The aviation industry has been abuzz over the last few years with the word “NextGen” which is short for Next Generation Air Transportation System. This new system design has taken the industry by storm and seeks to improve different forms of air navigation. What does this mean for us as pilots or even as employees in the aerospace industry?
What is NextGen?
Between now and 2025, it is the goal of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to completely transform the Air Traffic Control (ATC) system of the U.S. The current ATC system is a radar-based system – NextGen seeks to change the entire system over to a satellite-based system. Through the use of Position System (GPS) technology, navigation will be completely transformed. Benefits include shorter routes, time and fuel saved, reduction of traffic delays across the board, the ability to increase capacity, and overall permitting controllers to monitor and manage aircraft with greater safety margins. The overarching result, and hope, is that the U.S. air system will become much more efficient, safer, and the gridlock in the sky and at the airports will be reduced. In 2003, Congress established the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) to development and implement the system – this system consists of four elements.
Elements of NextGen
Overall, NextGen is an overarching change to our air transportation through four different elements.
- Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) – ADS-B uses GPS to provide air traffic controllers and pilots with more accurate information to keep aircraft safe in the sky and on the runways. It works by using transponders in the aircraft that receive information from the satellites to determine the precise location in the sky. Other data, in addition to this, is broadcasted to other aircraft and ATC. ADS-B allows everyone to see a real-time display of air traffic for the first time.
- NextGen Data Communications (Data Comm) – For the most part, communication between aircraft and ATC is done by voice. Data Comm seeks to provide another means of two-way communication for ATC clearances, advisories, crew requests, etc. Basically, this element of NextGen greatly increases the efficiency of both ATC and flight crews in addition to freeing up valuable radio time.
- NextGen Network Enable Weather (NNEW) – In aviation, a large percentage of flight delays are attributed to weather every year. NNEW seeks to cut weather-related delays by at least half. This will be achieved by many thousands of global weather observation and sensor reports from ground-, air-, airborne- and space-based sources that will fuse into a single U.S. weather system which will be updated in real time. The idea is that this real-time weather information will allow flight crews, dispatchers, and planners to make better aeronautical decisions.
- National Airspace System Voice Switch (NVS) – In the national air system, there are currently 17 different voice switching systems some of which have been in use for over twenty years. The goal is to replace all of those with a single air/ground and ground/ground voice communication system.
Now, as we all know, major changes to any system within aviation and aerospace can be time-consuming, but also require a great deal of money. While this may sound like an expensive project, the payout is far greater than we can see right now. The FAA did its research in advance and has estimated that the increasing congestion in the air transport system in the U.S. would cost our economy $22 billion annually by 2022.
The idea is that NextGen will reduce congestion, save money, save fuel, and save time. Also, airports and airspace across the country will also be able to handle more traffic overall to meet the growing needs of aviation and aerospace.
So far, Next Gen has been implemented into a number of airports including Huston, TX , Jackson Hole, WY, and Atlanta, GA. The new navigational and weather technology has saved thousands of miles making flights more efficient in and out of these airports. In addition, the advanced weather technology has increased the safety of flights that fly into airports located next to mountainous terrain.
Whether or not you’re a technology buff, I think you’d agree that NextGen will be a great benefit to the U.S. transportation system. Overall, NextGen will reduce costs for those in aerospace, be a more integrated and safer system, in addition to being more efficient. As pilots we will see many technological changes in our careers, so I believe it is important to stay in the know about new technology, but also be open to doing things differently and adapting to those changes.
Also, I just think NextGen is pretty cool – wouldn’t you agree?
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