Aug. 11, 2014

NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen, speaking on Aug. 7 at a panel on airspace modernization, described the challenge of NextGen as how to transform our air traffic system for the future without compromising what is currently “the best air transportation system in the world.”

“The business aviation community has been an advocate for NextGen, because we see it as an essential part of the U.S. staying the world’s best, safest, most diverse, complex and most efficient air transportation system,” he told an audience of industry leaders attending the 60th Air Safety Forum sponsored by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) in Washington, D.C.

Bolen said, “When we started on the path to NextGen, we had an idea that if we could go from ground-based navigation to satellite-based navigation and from analog communication to digital communication that we would open up a lot of opportunities.” Those opportunities included enhancements to situational awareness and safety, reductions in the industry’s environmental footprint and increases to the capacity and throughput of the system as a result of technology advances that permit more precise spacing, he said.

“All of these concepts had widespread support, but as we have moved toward development and implementation, we’ve begun to recognize that this is no easy task,” Bolen said, addressing concerns raised by other panelists about the FAA’s current operational and regulatory responsibilities for the National Airspace System (NAS), and suggestions that the U.S. adopt a privatized model.

Even as other nations adopt different approaches to air traffic system management, “I hear from operators, particularly as business aviation has become more international over the past decade or so, that from the point the wheels leave the pavement to the point where they come back down, the U.S. is still the easiest, most efficient and best system in the world to operate in,” Bolen noted.

“The business aviation community believes in looking at all of the alternatives,” he added, “but we also are very mindful of the importance of preserving the system’s opportunities and flexibility. For business aviation, this means access – access to airports and airspace is essential – and for communities that depend on general aviation airports, it is for business and economic opportunity, for essential air transportation and for the humanitarian lift.”

Bolen reminded the audience that the “FAA’s funding stream has been stable over the past 15 years, despite some incredibly turbulent times.”

“Sometimes it’s easy to blame Congress,” he said, noting that the problem is not just a matter of funding levels, and he offered as a reminder that when the federal government was preparing to allocate billions of dollars in stimulus funding for infrastructure projects during the recent recession, “we weren’t as crisp as we wanted to be in articulating NextGen priorities.”

Congress has agreed that the FAA needs to move forward with a consolidation plan “that means taking steps away from the past,” Bolen said, citing legislative measures to encourage the FAA to streamline certification procedures and other regulatory and operational processes.

“Change is happening all the time – the American DNA is never satisfied with where we are,” he added. “All of us here today are committed to ensuring that our system goes further, faster and more efficiently.”

Bolen was joined on the panel by Captain Sean Cassidy, ALPA first vice president and national safety coordinator who served as moderator; Marla Westervelt, policy analyst, Eno Center for Transportation; Robert Poole, director of transportation policy, Reason Foundation; and Melvin Davis, NextGen representative, National Air Traffic Controllers Association.