This approach—of grouping operational concepts by phase of operation—corresponds naturally to the way that aircraft operate as they move from the departure gate to the arrival gate. In addition, this approach would greatly simplify the interfaces between operational concepts compared with the complex interfaces needed in the Integrated Plan, which implies the creation of five sets of operational concepts—one for aircraft operations, one for ATM, one for safety, etc.

Future versions of the Integrated Plan would also be improved by defining both the goals that must be achieved by each operational concept and the process or approach by which those goals will be accomplished. Specific technological solutions should be viewed as speculative until they have been demonstrated to be the best means available to implement a particular operational concept. Therefore, it is important to develop the tools needed to assess operational concepts that will meet the primary objective of resolving demand issues and increasing capacity while also satisfying enabling, interrelated requirements for safety, security, environmental effects, consumer satisfaction, and industrial competitiveness. Until that assessment is complete, the Integrated Plan should avoid prescribing specific solutions that may be too limiting. For example, the Plan’s discussion of security operations states that “sensor technology and countermeasures will be used to detect and render man-portable air defense systems ineffective” (NGATS JPDO, 2004, p. 11). Developing, deploying, and maintaining missile defense systems on commercial aircraft would be very expensive and may not represent the most cost-effective solution to this problem, even if one assumes that small missiles will become a significant security threat in the future.

The need for an integrated, systematic approach to operational concepts is further illustrated by the discussion of remote piloting capabilities in the aircraft operations section. This capability is mentioned as a possible means for enabling “ground intervention in case of pilot incapacitation or for security reasons.” This discussion does not seem to consider that remote piloting capabilities also create the potential for remote hijacking of multiple aircraft by terrorists who have taken over a traffic control facility. The Integrated Plan should more carefully consider the strengths and weaknesses of specific technological and procedural approaches (e.g., remote control of aircraft by ground controllers) as they relate to the stated goals (e.g., to be more secure).

Changes in the airline industry that have occurred since it was deregulated in 1978 demonstrate the futility of trying to predict whether the air transportation system of 2025 will be dominated by point-to-point or hub-and-spoke route systems and by jumbo jets or regional jets. However, no matter what types of users dominate the future air transportation system, operational concepts for in-transit operations should strive to satisfy increased demand for passenger and cargo traffic, with safe separation between aircraft and with the ground, in all types of weather.

As soon as possible, the JPDO should use available analytical capabilities to define guiding principles for the development of new operational concepts. The guiding principles that are ultimately adopted by the JPDO should also be reflected in the NGATS vision and goals. Four possible guiding principles are described below, for purposes of illustration:

  • Use precise information. The current air transportation system is based on certain assumptions about the availability and precision of information related to aircraft position and velocity, atmospheric conditions, etc. In recent decades, the accuracy and timeliness of this information has improved by orders of magnitude. Therefore, one guiding principle could be that NGATS will take full advantage of precise information about aircraft performance and flight status, adverse weather, wake vortices, and the state of the air transportation system that is quickly disseminated to improve situational awareness and support effective decision making by all system users. Such an approach could increase safety, reduce vertical and horizontal separation, eliminate operational restrictions on closely spaced runways, enable operation of more than one aircraft on a runway at a time, and eliminate the adverse effect of reduced visibility on system capacity. Such a guideline would promote research to safely increase system capacity by making better use of existing runways and airspace, and it would improve the performance of the air transportation system regardless of which aircraft types dominate the airspace or which route structures are employed by the airlines.

  • Use existing flight management system capabilities. Another guiding principle could establish that NGATS will take full advantage of the flight management systems, the Global Positioning System (GPS), traffic collision avoidance systems (TCAS), and terrain alerting and warning systems (TAWS) that are installed in more than 4,000 air transport aircraft. More than 20,000 aircraft in the worldwide fleet will be equipped with these systems by 2025. Operational concepts that take full advantage of these performance-based capabilities could be implemented much more quickly and more economically than concepts that require new equipment to be retrofitted into all aircraft in the fleet. Taking full advantage of the advanced navigation capabilities and other precise information that current systems provide could dramatically improve the situational awareness of system users. The FAA is already taking a step in this direction in the form of the Required Navigation Performance Program. This program is establishing aircraft performance standards that would allow aircraft to use already installed technology to break free of the traditional ground-based navigation system. In addition, operational concepts could be developed, based

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