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    ‘Tough decisions’ ahead for NextGen

    19 June 2014, 3:30 p.m. EDT

    by Ben Iannotta, Aerospace America editor-in-chief

     

    MajGen_EdBolton-USAFRet_19Jun2014Budget cuts to the FAA’s NextGen air traffic management modernization program over the past few years are beginning to take a toll, and in response FAA officials are seeking to protect core NextGen projects, a senior FAA official said Thursday.

    One of those core projects is FAA’s effort to ensure communications compatibility with whatever system Europe chooses to deploy after completing research under the Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research project, or SESAR.

    “A priority is our work with SESAR,” said retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Ed Bolton, now FAA’s assistant administrator for NextGen.

    Bolton spoke on the panel, “Toward an Integrated Global ATM,” together with Marc Hamy, head of air traffic management at Airbus. The panel was moderated by retired FAA official Victoria Cox, known unofficially as the Mother of NextGen.

    Bolton called the budget outlook “traumatic” because of the cumulative effect of cuts to the spending plan since the start of the program in 2009. “At some point, we’re going to come to a tipping point in which we’re going to have to make tough decisions about the total scope of NextGen,” he said. By Bolton’s calculation, the original spending plan for NextGen has shrunk by as much as $5 billion.

    Even without the cuts, U.S. and European officials have struggled to coordinate the timing and technologies for their respective projects. Officials say a lack of harmonization could make it harder for the air transportation industry to wring maximum benefit from plans to equip airliners to broadcast satellite-based position and identification data into a modernized ground network so that airliners can fly closer together, straightening out flight routes and reducing the need to put planes in holding patterns.

    Hamy of Airbus said SESAR officials are approaching fruition in their work to define the best way to modernize air traffic management. “We are on time. We have a big challenge,” he said. “The problem we have is coming from the complexity of organizations in ATM, the number of stakeholders.”

    The concern about delay, Hamy said, is that aircraft could end up needing different sets of equipment to fly into the European and U.S. airspaces.

     

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