Sometimes, when a program is failing to meet targets, it is a good idea to pause and evaluate the history. For NextGen, a good question is: What was the original expectation, and how has that evolved over time?
Taking just a few minutes to research this question, it quickly becomes clear that FAA has spent a lot of time and money ‘selling’ NextGen, and one unfortunate element of that sales job has been to sacrifice local airport environment to gain needed ‘stakeholder’ support from the airlines. I.e., FAA has thrown away residential quality of life near major airports in Phoenix, Boston, New York, Charlotte and elsewhere, by knowingly ignoring obvious adverse noise impacts. They are giving the airlines what they want (slightly shorter flights) via very concentrated NextGen departure routes with early turns.
The extent of FAA’s NextGen failure will eventually become clear, supplanting the positive spin that FAA, NATCA, A4A and other so-called ‘collaborating stakeholders’ have carefully delivered since 2003. In time, it will become clear that certain human habits and political realities are behind the REAL NextGen, including:
- FAA has a very long history of collecting airline passenger fees and applying these taxes to perpetually upgrade ATC equipment. Similar to the military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned about. Every year, hundreds of millions are spent on new contracts for hardware, software and services.
- FAA and the handful of firms who win FAA’s contracts are strongly motivated to impose new programs, simply because they want the money. They have zero incentive for cost savings, because their paychecks are directly connected to the NextGen program. The bigger the program, the bigger the individual paycheck.
- NextGen Benefits will be (and have been) grossly exaggerated; NextGen costs and deficiencies will be (and have been) routinely understated and/or concealed.
- It is irresponsible, disingenuous, and absolutely ludicrous for FAA to encourage the media to paint a picture of an archaic ATC system in desperate need of an upgrade.
- DON’T BLAME CONGRESS for the FAA-related legislation they pass. The precise language within NextGen legislation, such as the ambiguous Section 213 passed in early 2012, did not originate with Congress; it was pieced together by FAA and their principal clients, the airlines and manufacturers. When Congress passed the ambiguous language in 2012, FAA then chose to take full advantage of the ambiguity and misapply ‘Categorical Exclusions’ to ignore the public; i.e., it was FAA’s knowing choice to impose environmentally impactful departures, such as the MAYSA and FTHLS departures at KPHX and the TNNIS departure at KLGA.
- DO BLAME CONGRESS for their failure to compel FAA to clean up the mess they have made with the NextGen rollouts. It appears they are too beholden to the moneyed interests that fund their reelection campaigns. Sadly, we have come to expect our elected officials fall into two groups: those who stay quiet, and those who grandstand on the issue to generate voter support. We have also come to expect that what officials say to cameras generally is not consistent with what they do out of view.
- Follow the money and it is hard to see otherwise: our aviation system, like our political system, is broken; it primarily serves money, with generally no regard for the concerns of the average citizen.
Originally, Noise REDUCTION was Part of the NextGen Plan!
NextGen first took form in late 2003, when Congress passed the ‘Vision 100 – Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act’. At Section 709 of the legislation (see page 95 of the PDF copy), Congress ordered FAA to form the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) for NextGen implementation. Amazingly, the plan first articulated by Congress in 2003 included the environment. At paragraph (c) of Section 709, Congress listed the seven goals they expected FAA to pursue. Here is a screen capture of a portion of Section 709, with the noise impact goal highlighted: If FAA was applying Goal #7, we would not have KPHX departures inundating Grand Avenue and Laveen with noise, as they have been since September 18th. Nor would we have the TNNIS departure being used so destructively off of La Guardia. But we do have these impacts, and FAA plans more.
NextGen Technologies go Back 40+ Years
Instead of honoring the intent Congress had stated in Goal #7, FAA is doubling down with their spin job. They, and the other stakeholders, carefully coordinate their statements to dupe the larger public into believing that NextGen is transformational, a collection of amazing and new technologies.
It is important to understand that these satellite positioning technologies have actually been around for a long time. The U.S. GPS system dates back to the 1970’s for military use, but was made available for civilian use in 1995. It was eight years later (in 2003) that FAA got Congress to initiate NextGen, and another eight years later (in early 2012) that FAA got Congress to accelerate implementation of their ‘new’ NextGen plan, with ambiguous language that FAA then used to bypass environmental review.
And, yes, all of that legislation was drafted by FAA, principally to serve the industry players, especially the airlines and the avionics manufacturers.
12/12/2004: The First NextGen Report
One of the other actions Congress ordered in late 2003 was for FAA to report back “…not later than one year after the date of enactment of the Act.” Exactly one year after enactment, on 12/12/2004, FAA published a 41-page paper, JPDO’s ‘Next Generation Air Transportation System Integrated Plan’. The report includes more than a dozen references to managing noise. Here is a link to a PDF copy; to aid in an efficient review, yellow highlighting has been added to all references to ‘Noise’.
And, here is a screen-cap of the ‘abstract’ of JPDO’s ‘Next Generation Air Transportation System Integrated Plan’. The text was essentially extracted from the ‘Executive Summary’ (see pages 4-5 of the PDF copy).
Abstract : The United States has been at the forefront of aviation since the day the Wright Flyer made its historic 12-second flight. Since then, Americans have become the most mobile society on Earth. Imagine, though, what would happen to our economy and quality of life if we could no longer depend on air transportation for overnight delivery or we could no longer depend on arriving when we need to arrive? The U.S. air transportation system as we know it is under stress. The demand for air transportation**This was written at the end of 2004. Ten years later, at the end of 2014, total scheduled commercial domestic passenger departures have been steadily declining year after year, and are down 19% since 2004. is outpacing our ability to increase capacity in our airports. Operating and maintenance costs of the air traffic system are outpacing revenues and the air carrier industry is going through significant change. The terrible events of September 11, 2001, radically altered our country and they exposed a new impediment to the future of the air transportation industry. New security requirements are significantly impacting costs and the ability to efficiently move people and cargo. In addition, the growth in air transportation has provoked community concerns over aircraft noise, pollution, and congestion that affect our ability to respond adequately or rapidly enough to our changing world. Now imagine an alternative world where a traveler or shipper determines departure and arrival times instead of being confined to a predetermined schedule. Imagine a hassle-free travel experience where safety and security measures, ticketing, and baggage checks are all transparent as the traveler or package moves easily through the airport and on and off the aircraft. Think of the possibilities if owning a recreational plane, micro-jet, or a share of a jet capable of flying in nearly all weather conditions were affordable to more Americans. Imagine improved individual and community quality of life in a world with less aircraft noise and emissions pollution, even as significant increases in air transportation occur.