NASA's Bold Vision for Air Transport
NASA Principal Terry Hertz
NASA has always been ahead of its time; that goes with the territory. However, such vision does not
only apply to space exploration. Before Congress even began writing legislation creating the Joint
Planning and Development Office, NASA's aeronautics arm had recognized the need to look beyond the
immediate horizon and do something as bold as a transforming our air transportation system in an
integrated fashion to meet current and future needs.
NASA JPDO Principal Terry Hertz, who is Director of Aeronautics Technology in the Office of
Aeronautics, noted that the agency had already been supplying decision support management tools for
air traffic control. In fact, 20 percent of Aeronautics' work involved air traffic management
technology. "We find ourselves in a unique position in that our operational customers are outside of
the agency," he added.
The 13-year NASA veteran went on to explain that NASA's Aerospace Technology Enterprise mission is a
perfect fit for transformation. It is: "Pioneer and validate high-value technologies that enable new
exploration and discovery and improve quality of life through practical application."
In this regard, Aeronautics Technology creates, matures and then transfers technology to its
customers for a safer, more secure, more environmentally friendly and more efficient air
transportation system. In other words, just what the JPDO needs to help meet a broad array of
objectives that are being articulated in the National Plan.
This new technology that will enable the next Generation Air Transportation System also covers a
broad spectrum of activities and products ranging from the Traffic Management Advisor tool already
being used by the FAA to spaced-based communications to human performance measures. Most of these
concepts are beyond the risk level or capabilities of NASA's partner organizations.
When asked when the flying public and users of the system could start seeing some of the benefits of
transformation, Mr. Hertz replied that some of the enabling technology will appear in the next five
years. However, he also sounded a note of caution, saying that the timetable is also dependent on
how quickly the public wants the benefits and is willing to pay for them. Also affecting is benefit
stream is FAA's disposition towards introducing this new technology. "NASA's job is to do the right
thing and answer questions," he said."
Speaking about the National Plan that will be delivered to Congress on December 12, 2004, the
Director of Aeronautics Technology described it as "an evolving document." He concluded that "one
plan isn't good enough. We must step back and see what issues are open. We can't predict the
future. We are dealing with enormously complex issues with large social consequences. We must keep
our eyes set on the vision and then continue to work and learn."