The Obama administration’s proposed 2016 fiscal year budget request seeks $845 million for capital investments related to NextGen Air Traffic Control (ATC) system modernization, a $53 million increase over the 2015 budget and an indication that the administration wants to see the program accelerated over the next two to three years. While the proposed budget is still far from approval, details included in the request support initiatives within the NextGen program.
One of the most significant features of the budget proposal is a $21 million request to add 85 engineers and safety inspectors to the FAA’s Aviation Safety Oversight (AVS) division. These additional inspectors and engineers will become necessary as more operators request certification and oversight for the installation of avionics and new capabilities that will enable their aircraft to take advantage of NextGen initiatives.
“Two issues that we’ve continued to hear from our members over the last several years out there in the field are the challenges associated with the certification process of these new technologies, and also the consistency of regulatory interpretation associated with getting operational approvals for their fleets,” Thomas Hendricks, president and CEO of the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), told Avionics Magazine. NATA’s membership includes operators and companies within the General Aviation (GA) sector of the aviation community.
“Increasing staffing for the oversight divisions will be a huge benefit for gaining operational approvals,” Hendricks added. Operators will require the extra staff the budget is proposing as they look to install FAA-approved Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast Out (ADS-B Out) solutions to their aircraft to comply with the Jan. 1, 2020 equipage mandate.
In addition to the request for more safety inspectors, the president’s proposal also outlines investments that will apply to specific initiatives within the NextGen program. This includes the following: $13 million to continue implementing Performance-Based Navigation (PBN) procedures; $79 million to continue the En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) system enhancements and refresh; $139 million to provide the funding for satellite subscription services associated with ADS-B ground station surveillance; $235 million to deploy the text-based data communication system in terminal and en route domains known as DataComm; $37 million to provide policies and standards to support implement ion of information management and data sharing under the System Wide Information Management (SWIM) program; and $43 million to maximize air traffic flow and airport usage with Time-Based Flow Management (TBFM).
There is also an additional $166 million requested to support research, engineering and development associated with NextGen focused on alternative fuels development and research for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) integration among other programs.
Ed Bolen, president and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) told Avionics Magazine that he supports the president’s budget request, although he is realistic that, at this point, the industry will have to wait to see whether lawmakers adopt the budget as its been proposed.
“That NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC) has recommended that there be four top priority capabilities focused on [or] related to NextGen, those include performance based navigation, surface and data sharing, closely spaced parallel runways and DataComm-enabled controller pilot data links, CPDLC and pre-departure clearances and we’ve supported that — and I think you see support for those priorities reflected in the budget request,” said Bolen.
“Business aviation is very interested in NextGen because we want to increase the overall system capacity. We think by increasing overall system capacity, we will be able to preserve general aviation and specifically business aviation’s access to airports and airspace and we think that is critically important,” he added. “Historically, when we’ve seen airports or airspace become very congested with commercial operations, business aviation tends to get forced out. We want to preserve as much access as possible and we think the way to do that is through NextGen increased capacity.”
With the president’s budget proposal now released, Bolen, Hendricks and the rest of the aviation community will now await the highly anticipated FAA reauthorization this fall. Both NBAA and NATA are stressing the continued collaboration between the industry and the FAA to continue moving NextGen forward in accordance with the agency’s implementation plan.
“Whether its budgets, or whether its legislation like the FAA reauthorization, we need to make sure the community is talking together, that we’re using the same language, we understand what we’re trying to do, what time frames are and what budgets will support that. The more we can communicate, the more we can work together, the more that we can track things and keep the accountability strong, the better off we’re going to be,” said Bolen.