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JPDO holds “Ground School” for House and Senate

Charlie Leader

Recently, there has been considerable news coverage concerning flight delays and airplanes stranded on airport tarmac. With the amount of air traffic projected to nearly triple in the next twenty years, these occurrences could become more frequent.

On March 6th, in front of congressional staff members, representatives from the Joint Planning and Development Office discussed their plans to transform the air transportation system in hopes of improving air traffic management and meeting future aviation related challenges. Titled “NextGen Ground School,” members of the JPDO explained different aspects of the Next Generation Air Transportation System to staffers.

Opening remarks were made by the JPDO Director, Charles Leader.  Mr. Leader took the opportunity to briefly explain the overall goals and the necessity of the JPDO and NextGen. 

The audience was then shown a video summarizing the reasoning behind NextGen and the plans the JPDO intends to implement. It can be viewed online at:

Upon conclusion of the video, Mr. Leader highlighted and expanded on some of the key ideas of NextGen. Pointing to government and industry projections, he stated that “there is no question there is going to be a significant increase in demand” and that “the current air transportation system cannot expand.”

Congressional Staff

Without the implementation of NextGen, Mr. Leader explained, the system could eventually fail, and our economy (five to nine percent of the GDP relying on the air transportation industry) will suffer greatly. 

Mr. Leader also took the time to clear up any misconceptions about the progress of NextGen. He focused on the ongoing implementation of technologies over the next twenty years. The end result will not be “a flip of the switch” Leader explained, but more like the creation of gradual endeavors, such as the national rail and interstate highway systems. The director offered another analogy, stating that NextGen “will be like building a truck while it’s driving down the road”. 

Following Mr. Leader was Ed Waggoner, JPDO Director of Enterprise Architecture and Engineering Division Director and Jay Merkle, JPDO Chief Architect. Mr. Waggoner focused on the new draft of the Concept of Operations, or ConOps. The ConOps, as he explained, “describes the (NextGen) vision in prose form” to show the progression and application of key transformations and initiatives.

Mr. Waggoner noted that the ConOps enhances the partnership with industry stakeholders by encouraging them to comment on the plans and suggest changes. The ConOps is available online at

Mr. Merkle went on to explain some of the features of NextGen, including the weather system. One of the problems with the current system, he explained, was the poor and unreliable weather forecasting. 

The NextGen system allows for wide-spread sharing of weather information, which allows decision makers to accurately predict inclement weather.  This means that the system will be more efficient because more accurate weather information will be available.

Panel addressing Senate Staff

Interagency cooperation was a theme highlighted by Kristen Burnham, JPDO Director of Portfolio Management. Ms. Burnham stated that six Federal agencies and departments, as well as private industry were combining efforts to ensure the success of NextGen.

Last to speak was Vicki Cox, FAA Air Traffic Organization Vice President of Operations Planning. Ms. Cox focused on a number of issues related to NextGen including cross-agency implementation of the plan, as well as the goal of establishing a multi-agency review board designed to evaluate initiatives.

Many of the questions asked of the panel were budget related, including the extent of agency cooperation in financial matters, as well as costs for FY09.  The panel stated that there are a few minor issues, but on the whole, the NextGen planning and implementation is going smoothly and they envision success.

Overall, the “Ground School” was a great success thanks in large part to robust attendance and active participation by congressional staff members.  This “Ground School” is part of a series of events the JPDO has planned.

Energy Security Leadership Council Report Supports NextGen

Bush Points to ATC Modernization as Important Challenge for New Transportation Secretary Peters

“In her new position, she will face important challenges,” Bush said. “Next year she will lead the Department’s efforts to reauthorize our nation’s aviation programs. Our nation is outgrowing our aviation capacity. More people are flying every year, and so we must modernize our airports and our air traffic control.”

The FAA headquarters had the honor to host Peters’ official swearing-in ceremony to become the nation’s 15th Transportation Secretary, succeeding Norman Mineta, who was in the audience. Bush praised the FAA’s successful efforts, orchestrated by the Command Center, to ground planes following the September 11 attacks when Mineta was transportation chief.

“I remember after the attacks of September 11, when Norm led the successful effort to bring tens of thousands of passengers aboard commercial aircraft to safe landings,” said Bush. “He grounded quite a few planes, including the ones my mom and dad were on. They've always thanked you for that, Norm.”

Peters headed the Federal Highway Administration from 2001 to 2005, and before that spent three years directing the Arizona Department of Transportation, which oversees Phoenix Sky Harbor and other airports. Peters most recently served as director of transportation policy for HDR Inc., an engineering and consulting firm.

“Mary is a dedicated public servant, an experienced leader, and one of our nation's most innovative thinkers on transportation issues. Mary brings more than two decades of knowledge and skill to her new post,” said Bush. “Mary Peters is the right person to succeed Norm as the Secretary of Transportation - She understands that to maintain our nation's competitiveness, and to sustain our growing economy, we need a Secretary who can see the challenges and be willing to confront them.”

Peters acknowledged the challenges that lie ahead for her, but said she is “ready and eager” to tackle them.

A top priority, she stressed, is making travel safer. “But we also want to work to improve the system performance and reliability, and to find 21st century solutions for 21st century transportation challenges,” she added.

In dealing with these challengers, Peters urged forward-thinking solutions. “We can't assume that the methods of the past will work for the future. Instead, we are going to recognize that our transportation challenges have changed dramatically in the 40 years since this Department came into being, and so must our approaches. 

“When DOT was formed, America was in the process of building major portions of the transportation network we know today,” Peters continued. “Now much of this vital network is showing its age, just like some of us, in fact. And at the very same time, our growing economy is placing increasing demands on every one of our systems, even while the funding sources we've relied on are less and less able to keep pace with that demand. If we're going to escape the forces of the perfect storm that are gathering before us, we must find fresh angles and ways to improve the performance of our transportation systems. … I am committed to making sure that all the resources at the Department are used to deliver; to make our roads safer; to do everything we can to ensure that our skies, highways, ports and rails are free of traffic congestion.” (Republished from

Laying the Groundwork for the Future Creating a Foundation for Success

FAA Administrator Blakey on the
big screen at the NBAA annual
meeting in Orlando
Credit: NBAA
Speaking at the National Business Aviation Association’s 59th annual meeting in Orlando on October 17, FAA Administrator Blakey once again stressed the importance of the Next Generation System initiative to meeting a future that will include a doubling to tripling of demand over the next 20 years and a mix of aircraft from very light jets to large carrier fleets to rockets.

“Let me say this without a hint of overstatement, if we don't get the NextGen ball rolling right now, we can't be ready. You can't start shopping for this one on Christmas Eve,” she said.

"These Are the Days: Designing the Next Generation Air Transportation System"

JPDO and NGATS Testify on Capitol Hill
Now is the critical time for both the U.S. and China in aviation, says FAA Administrator Blakey.
Credit: FAA

Speaking before the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in Wichita, Kansas on September 27th, FAA Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety Nicholas A. Sabatini said that one of the most important and collective challenges for government and industry is accommodating growing demand, while at the same time, improving safety. “It will still be technology, as well as a sharp focus on human factors and a system safety approach, that will take us to the next level of safety,” he argued. And that’s where the Next Generation System enters the picture.

Mr. Sabatini observed that the NextGen’s foundation is a performance-based airspace system. He urged the gathering of aerospace engineers to build aircraft with avionics that can take full advantage of the full potential of such a system. An example is being able to replicate in bad weather what pilots and planes can do in good weather.

However, Mr. Sabatini cautioned that technology has its limitations. “As you use technology to safely add incremental — and then significant — capacity to the system, we know there’s more than technology at play here. Technology is often the answer, but it’s never the entire answer…There are a host of human factors issues.” These could include finding the balance between providing a pilot with useful information and too much information.

The Associate Administrator for Safety also said that designing an aircraft today that will work in the NextGen of 2025 and beyond will involve taking a “systems approach” to an entirely new level.

And the FAA is doing more and more of that today by adopting Safety Management Systems. “Safety Management Systems formalize risk management, which is imperative as we move from a forensic, or after-the-fact accident investigation approach, to a diagnostic and then a more prognostic, or predictive, approach,” he said.

Safety Management Systems are especially important as new technology is introduced. Mr. Sabatini cautioned, “At the same time new technology can bring critical benefits, it can also introduce new risks — risks that we must fully understand, that we must analyze and test, and that we must mitigate. Yet, mitigate does not mean slow down. It means knowing exactly what you are doing, that the benefits are clear, and that the risks are acceptable.”

However, Mr. Sabatini noted that if this is done properly and effectively, we might achieve that one-level-of-safety for all types of aircraft and all types of operations that has been elusive for so long. “Together, we are creating a safer and stronger future for aviation. These are the days,” he concluded.  

U.S. and China Move Forward with Critical Air Traffic Modernization

Sept. 19 - As the United States moves forward in making the next generation air transportation system a reality, China can learn invaluable lessons and adopt technologies as it too tackles major aviation challenges.

This was the message from FAA Administrator Marion Blakey and Air Traffic Organization Chief Operating Officer Russ Chew at the 2006 U.S.-China Aviation Summit.

“We share many similarities with China, both in terms of our geography and in our aviation systems. Our countries are almost identical in terms of total landmass. Similar traffic patterns have also developed, including the heavy concentration of air traffic along our respective east coasts. Given these similarities, there’s no doubt we can learn a lot from each other,” Blakey told the summit in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 18.

Blakey said that it is a “critical time” for both the United States and China in aviation. “For years, we’ve been talking about approaching a crossroad with our air traffic management systems. We’ve known for some time that we were coming to a point when we’d need to make a decision on modernizing our infrastructure. Well, that day is upon us.”

Thus the United States is moving ahead with the Next Generation Air Transportation System — NextGen — a “curb-to-curb” comprehensive plan for the entire aviation system. “That means integrating air traffic management with other factors such as airports, advanced flight systems, security and the environment,” Blakey explained.

Likewise, China faces similar choices as it moves ahead with its air traffic modernization. The reasons for modernizing the aviation system “are issues that China knows about all too well, given its tremendous growth in aviation over the last 10 years and the projected double-digit growth over the next decade,” pointed out Blakey, who will be traveling to China in a short time.

While NextGen has an end goal of 2025, Blakey stressed that “many of the solutions for tomorrow are within our grasp today.”

The NextGen system, added FAA Chief Operating Officer, ATO Russell Chew, “is not just a vision of the future 20 years from now — we’re laying its foundation right now.” 

These solutions include Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast — one of the primary features of the NextGen system — which works by having aircraft transponders receive GPS signals and use them to determine the plane’s precise location in the sky.

“ADS-B will give us real-time cockpit displays of traffic information, both on the ground and in the air. So for the first time, pilots and controllers will have a much better sense of what’s going on around them at any given time. And that, in turn, will increase capacity,” said Blakey, who noted the system is already being used by United Parcel Service “with terrific results.”

Given the similar challenges China faces with its air traffic, Blakey said such technology should be applied there — and indeed on a global level. “At some point, all countries are going to find themselves at the crossroad I referred to earlier,” she said. “All of us will face making tough decisions. Today, it’s more important than ever to maintain an active dialogue. Harmonization and interoperability are key to the future integrity of our global aviation system.

ADS-B is in exploration stage in China, with a handful of pilot programs using the system.

Blakey also said U.S. experience in Traffic Flow Management and Collaborative Decision Making — working with the military and the user community to move traffic with greater safety and efficiency — could be helpful to China.

Similarly, Chew highlighted other new U.S. air traffic technologies and how they could potentially be used by China. Area Navigation procedures, or RNAV, reduce dependence on the exact location of ground-based navigation facilities, lessoning fuel burn and flight times. It is estimated that airline operators at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport will save $39 million a year in operational benefits from RNAV procedures.

Chinese officials are now using Atlanta as a model for developing RNAV at Beijing’s main airport. “We believe that implementation of RNAV in China will simplify clearances, reduce frequency congestion, enhance safety, and increase capacity before the 2008 Summer Olympic Games,” said Chew.

Required Navigation Performance, which builds upon RNAV, helps pilots fly more direct point-to-point routes with greater predictably. “China’s ongoing efforts to set up RNP can provide enormous benefits for airports in Tibet, and for many other airports found in mountainous terrain and have difficult weather conditions,” said Chew.

The Traffic Flow Management modernization program was described by Chew as the networking “brain” of the National Airspace System. It is a “single source of common traffic information, so traffic can be coordinated throughout the airspace system with everyone operating in it,” said Chew.

An innovation of the TFM is the new Airspace Flow Program. This allows a reduction in the number of ground delay programs by targeting only those flights whose routes are affected by en route storms — potentially saving customers $340 million a year in direct operating costs.

“Hence, we applaud China’s decision to construct a Traffic Flow Management Center,” said Chew. “We have already hosted the first team from China related to this construction, and we look forward to working with follow-up delegations.”

Given the shared aviation challenges, the United States and China currently have a number of bilateral aviation programs, including the Next Generation Air Transportation System Steering Group, established last April. “Through the steering group, our two nations will collaborate to meet the aviation challenges of the future,” said Chew, including cooperating on new technologies, proactive safety management systems, and harmonization of standards and procedures.

Both Chew and Blakey also highlighted the success of the recent training program for Chinese air traffic professionals that included on-the-job mentoring at various U.S. air traffic facilities. The Executive Management Development Training initiative “is a prime example of how our two nations are working together to build our leaders of the future,” said Chew. “China, like the United States, recognizes the importance of developing leadership that can carry the aviation system into the future.”

Vice Minister Yang Guoqing, of the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China, also welcomed the cooperative programs with the FAA that are helping China deal with the challenges faced by its aviation system.

The U.S.-China Aviation Summit also heard from Sen. Ted Stevens, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, whose long interest in Chinese aviation goes back to his days as a pilot flying in China during World War II.

Stevens said Alaska — the state he represents — and China share many of the same aviation challenges, especially regarding terrain and weather. “The lessons we have learned should be shared with our friends in China,” said Stevens.

Stevens highlighted the Capstone system, which provides pilots with cockpit information on terrain, weather and air traffic. The program has been a great success in Alaska, and could be used with the same effect in China. (Republished from

Funding NGATS is Focus at September House Hearing

One of the most difficult issues confronting the Next Generation System initiative is not technological. Rather it is how the project will be funded. That was the subject of a House Aviation Subcommittee (NOTE TO TONY AND MAX: This web site link only shows one URL as you navigate throughout, unfortunately) hearing on September 27th and the debate will carry over into next year when the FAA reauthorization legislation will be brought up. The FAA has called for a dialogue on alternative ways to finance the future system.

Subcommittee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) noted in his opening statement that although there is not yet an official cost estimate, preliminary information indicates that the FAA may need, on average, an additional $1 billion annually to implement NGATS while keeping the existing system up and running. He went on to observe that even if Aviation Trust Fund revenues are sufficient to pay for the Next Generation System, achieving a $1 billion increase in the FAA’s budget will be difficult with the current discretionary spending cap rules.

However, the Aviation Subcommittee Chairman turned the tables and made an extremely cogent point about the costs of not implementing the Next Generation System which could reach $40 billion annually by the year 2020. “In addition to the enormous economic loss, a failure to implement the NGATS could have a huge price tag in terms of foregone productivity savings. According to some estimates, a failure to implement NGATS would result in FAA operating costs that are $29 billion to $49 billion higher over the period from 2006-2025,” he said.

Ranking Member Jerry Costello (D-IL) expressed his concern about the absence of a more developed cost estimate for NGATS. He considers this important in the development of future funding alternatives. Rep. Costello noted that one estimate offered earlier this year was for $15 billion.  If that is the case, he felt that the current trust fund structure could meet the resource demand.  

Dr. Gerald Dillingham, Director of Physical Infrastructure Issues for the General Accountability Office testified that some stakeholders support the current excise tax system because they believe it has been successful in funding FAA, has low administrative costs, and distributes the tax burden in a reasonable manner. Others, including FAA, state that under the current system, there is a “disconnect between the revenues contributed by users and the costs those users impose on the national airspace system,” which in turn that raises revenue adequacy, equity, and efficiency concerns.

GAO believes that adopting alternative funding options to collect revenues from NAS users would have advantages and disadvantages, such as whether the contributions required from users actually reflect the costs they impose on the system. Given the diverse nature of FAA’s activities, GAO argues that a combination of alternative options may offer the most promise for linking revenues and costs.

Dr. Donald B. Marron, Acting Director of the Congressional Budget Office offered three observations on NGATS funding:

  • Developing and putting in place a new air traffic control system are likely to require significant investments by the federal government or by entities acting on its behalf.
  • Outlays from appropriations for the costs of a new air traffic control system would be recorded in the budget when the investments were made. The least expensive way of paying for such investments would be through federal spending financed by the U.S. Treasury. Alternative methods of financing would increase the government’s costs.
  • The Congress will face important decisions in allocating costs among taxpayers and various types of users of the new system. Those decisions will have important consequences for how efficiently the national airspace is used. A strong economic rationale exists for assigning a substantial portion of those costs to users.

Professor John Hansman, Director of MIT’s International Center for Air Transportation and Chairman of the Research, Engineering and Development Advisory Committee said successfully transforming the NAS into a Next Generation System that meets America’s future aviation needs is “a demanding project that will require twenty years of consistent and stable funding, management, and oversight to be successfully and efficiently completed. All the while, the system must safely and efficiently provide services every day to satisfy an ever-expanding demand for air transportation.”

Ms. Ellen Jewett, Vice President and Manager, Transportation Group, Infrastructure Investment Banking, Goldman, Sachs, and Co. testified that there are three primary options that the FAA “could evaluate to fund NGATS.”  On the traditional end of the spectrum, the FAA could borrow from the U.S. Treasury which would provide the lowest cost of capital. “However, from a capital markets perspective borrowing Treasuries is expensive in its lack of flexibility, as they can not be called or refinanced.” Ms. Jewett added.

Second, she suggested that the debt capital markets could offer another solution for the program’s “funding gap.”  Ms. Jewett observed that a securitized revenue structure is widely used and ensures the highest security to a bondholder. Under this structure, the FAA or a conduit issuer levies a charge which is then passed through a special purpose entity and is irrevocably pledged to the bondholders. In the case of NGATS, this could be through a securitization of FAA revenues or user fees. “How the fee is levied – ticket tax, passenger levy, airline charge – is less important than whether it is a stable revenue stream,” she stated.

The third and more radical alternative to solve the funding gap would be to explore the burgeoning public-private partnership market. “The public-private partnership

alternative presents a unique opportunity for the FAA to transfer all operating control and risk to the private sector in lieu of a financing,” Ms. Jewett concluded.  The full statements of the witnesses can be found at

ATC Quarterly Journal Abstracts

Sec'y Mineta Talks NexGen to World Travel & Tourism Leaders

The Joint Planning and Development Office thanks the Air Traffic Control Association for sharing abstracts from its latest Air Traffic Control Quarterly Journal (Volume 14, Number 3). For read the entire article, subscribe to the Air Traffic Control Quarterly.

Benchmarking Airport Efficiency: an Application of Data Envelopment Analysis

Author: Tony Diana

The call for airports to improve their resource utilization has become a necessity in an airline environment that has dramatically changed since September 11, 2001. Bankruptcies, terrorism and soaring oil prices have forced airlines to cut back on their schedules. As a result, airports have struggled to retain and expand air service. Moreover, the woes that had affected the National Airspace System (NAS) reappeared as the demand for air travel resumed: in 2005, delay and airport congestion returned to the year 2000’s level. Data Envelopment Analysis was used to benchmark a sample of thirty-five airports based on the percent of on-time gate arrivals as the efficiency criterion. Then, regression analysis was performed to assess the impact of selected input variables on the likelihood that an airport is efficient. The study indicates that “airport efficiency” for the largest thirty-five airports in terms of operations has declined from 2004 onward as airport delays and congestion returned to the year 2000 levels.


An Algorithmic Approach for Airspace Flow Programs

Authors: Jimmy Krozel, Ray Jakobovits, and Steve Penny

An Airspace Flow Program is a Traffic Flow Management (TFM) strategy for controlling the departure time and route selection of a set of aircraft constrained by an en route airspace capacity constraints (e.g., weather). The concept extends current airport Ground Delay Program (GDP) and Flow Constrained Area (FCA) procedures. A routing and scheduling algorithm is presented that includes ground delay, route selection, and airborne holding as decision variables for departing and en route flights, and like the current GDP resource allocation algorithm, aligns with a Collaborative Decision Making philosophy. A dynamic FCA capacity-estimation algorithm uses weather forecast information to produce time-varying entry and exit points as well as maximum flow rates through FCAs. Integration of these algorithms using a network representation of the National Airspace System enables assessment of the value of improved weather forecase accuracy and provides insights into the nature of robust TFM initiatives. Results are illustrated using an East Coast severe weather scenario.


Comparison of Pilot and Automation Generated Lateral Conflict Resolutions

Authors: Walter W. Johnson, Karl D. Bilimoria, Lisa C. Thomas, Hilda Q. Lee, Min0Ju Liao, and Vernol Battiste

This study compares and contrasts lateral conflict resolutions generated by pilots (with and without a set of decision support tolls), with those generated by a fully-automated conflict resolution tool that generates optimal (smallest path deviation) resolutions. The conflict geometrics investigated were all factorial combinations of three levels of Intruder aircraft speed, three levels of initial Ownship distance to closest approach, and nine conflict angles. The resolution decision support tools included dynamic predictor system alerting, which indicated whether a proposed path was conflict-free, and a dynamic predicator system that showed a fast time depiction of the proposed resolution trajectories. The automation-generated resolutions, computed using a geometric optimization algorithm, served as a benchmark against which the pilot-generated resolutions were compared. Without decision support tools, the pilot-generated resolutions were often ineffective in providing the necessary separation, particularly at smaller conflict angles. The resolutions tended to be effective when the decision support tools were used. Resolution cost, as measured by added path length, was greater for pilot-generated resolutions (averaging 2.7 nmi) compared to the automation-generated resolutions (averaging 1.3 nmi). When pilots had the decision support tools, their strategies, as indexed by whether they turned toward or away from the Intruder, and the mean locations at which they turned back to recapture their original route, tended to be the same as that of the automated system.


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