Business aviation is a strong and vocal supporter of the ongoing work to modernize America’s aviation system toward a next-generation, or NextGen system.

The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and its member companies believe transitioning from analog, ground-based systems to those using digital, satellite technologies will increase capacity, enhance safety and reduce aviation’s environmental footprint—all of which will benefit the aviation industry and the nation as a whole.

Recently, longtime privatization proponents have suggested that the only way to make NextGen a reality is to privatize our aviation system, so it resembles Canada’s or a similar one. This seems to be an attempt to combine two separate issues.

For one thing, Canada’s privatized model isn’t full-blown NextGen, and it isn’t scalable. The fact is, Canada’s aviation system is one-tenth the size of the U.S.’s and considerably less complex. The same challenges are found when we compare the U.S. system with those for New Zealand, Australia or the U.K.

But besides the reality that we can’t use a cut-and-paste of a foreign-style system in the U.S., the attempts being made to fuse privatization to modernization also overlook the fact that clear progress is now being made to get to NextGen, and that there is emerging industry consensus on what operators want and need.

There are a host of examples that illustrate the progress we have made in this regard. I’ll point to five, all of which are taking place within America’s existing aviation framework. 

•First, the FAA has already installed the majority of Automatic Dependent Surveillance—Broadcast (ADS-B) ground-based stations in the continental U.S. that will be needed for the NextGen system.

•Second, the FAA is working actively with operators to prioritize implementation of NextGen equipment and facilities, beyond ADS-B, that will be required as modernization continues. That’s as it should be. Both the FAA and operators need to identify additional incentives and/or benefits pertaining to equipage.

•Third, Congress has illuminated the way for the FAA to smooth its certification processes, in part with modernization in view. Recent enactment of the Small Aircraft Revitalization Act provides for more-streamlined approval procedures, not only for equipment but also for avionics and even certain new aircraft. 

•Fourth, Congress took an important step in passing the FAA Modernization Reform Act, part of which—Section 804—delineates a realignment-and-consolidation process for aviation facilities. Accordingly, the FAA is expected to move forward this year with an evaluation of existing air traffic control towers and facilities to determine which will, or won’t, be needed under a fully modernized system.

•Fifth, the FAA is making headway in its work to update flight procedures at major metropolitan airports, as demonstrated by the “greener skies” initiatives in Atlanta and Seattle, which will make operations more efficient while helping to reduce aircraft carbon emissions.

Clearly, when you take a meaningful look at aviation system modernization, a few realities quickly become apparent. For starters, it’s obvious that NextGen is one of the most important things the U.S. can implement for the future. At the same time, it’s wrong to assume that privatization is the only way to make NextGen a reality. Privatization may be a topic worthy of discussion, but it is certainly not a simple silver bullet.

When it comes to modernization, we must keep asking the hard questions and make sure Congress, the FAA and industry are working together, expeditiously but thoughtfully, to find the answers and build on the progress that is now being made.

It is imperative that the U.S. gets NextGen right, because we have the world’s largest, safest, most efficient, most diverse and most complex air-transportation system. Our work to transform that system for the future should not compromise America’s position. 

 

Aviation Week & Space Technology welcomes submissions for Viewpoints, which also run on this page from time to time. Selection for publication is based on originality, relevance and writing quality, not whether the editors share the opinions expressed. Address submissions to the Editor-In-Chief, Aviation Week & Space Technology, 1911 N. Fort Myer Drive, Suite 600, Arlington, Va. 22209, or e-mail to joe.anselmo@aviationweek.com.

 

Ed Bolen is president and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association in Washington.