Challenges at the FAA

I just posted a comment in the on-going discussion at National Journal’s transportation blog on NextGen and other high-tech challenges at the FAA. View my comments and other comments, including A4A’s Nicholas Calio, there or read my full-text below:

Congratulations to The Honorable Michael Huerta, sworn in Wednesday as America’s 17th Federal Aviation greg-blog-photoAdministrator!   One of the first challenges that Administrator Huerta will need to deal with is how to allocate limited federal resources to a broad range of NextGen system development and implementation.  Unless the federal funding landscape changes significantly going forward, it will be essential for FAA to effectively prioritize NextGen investments on operational capabilities where benefits are most likely to accrue.  Fortunately, important progress has been made towards this prioritization both through the RTCA’s Task Force 5 and now via the NextGen Advisory Committee. (U.S. airports are fortunate to have extremely capable representation on the NAC with Sue Baer/PANJNY and Kim Day/DEN.)

With respect to “NowGen” investments, NextGen doesn’t address the fact that critical infrastructure at many of our most important airports is approaching or exceeding its design life.  From aging  terminals to aging runways, U.S. airports have basic infrastructure maintenance and improvement needs that still must be met.  Similarly, despite NextGen advancements, legacy air traffic control systems will still need to be maintained and in some cases, upgraded, until such time that NextGen systems are considered reliable replacements for these systems.

Regarding unmanned aerial systems, we believe the watch phase needs to be “do no harm.”  The increasing use of unmanned aircraft systems in domestic airspace has to be managed in a way that ensures aircraft are not adversely impacted either through loss of airspace access, reduced airspace capacity, increased environmental impacts, or reduced margins of safety.  These are extremely tall orders for aircraft that have been typically used in environments where civil aviation considerations have been secondary.  From an airport perspective “doing no harm” involves the development of common sense airspace rules that ensure these drones do not affect manned aircraft operations especially during safety critical landing and takeoff phases of flight as well as reasonable limitations on the airports at which drone operations can be based.

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