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Technology Pathways: Assessing the Integrated Plan for a Next Generation Air Transportation System 2 Vision and Goals VISION AND CAPACITY Civil aviation accounts for about $900 billion of the U.S. gross domestic product and about 11 million jobs (DRI-WEFA, 2002). An inefficient air transportation system harms the U.S. economy by driving up costs to consumers and taxpayers. Congestion and inefficiencies in the National Airspace System increase fuel consumption, engine emissions, aircraft and crew costs, FAA staffing needs, and passenger delays and frustration. The process of improving the long-term performance of the air transportation system—and organizing a corresponding long-term research and technology program—should start with a unified, widely endorsed, national vision that specifies goals in each key area of interest to the commercial aviation community. The vision should establish goals related to safety and security, the capacity of the air transportation system, environmental protection (noise, emissions, and local water quality1), the satisfaction of consumer needs, and industrial competitiveness. It should include a clear set of guiding principles and a strategy for overcoming transitional issues. (NRC, 2003, p. 11) The Integrated Plan puts forth a broad vision of the future air transportation system, but the traveling public, shippers, and other users of the air transportation system of the future will not be well served by an approach that assumes or implies that all issues are of equal importance. The Integrated Plan would be improved by explicitly identifying guiding principles that managers at all levels could use in making decisions about priorities and the direction of specific programs. In particular, increased demand is the single most important factor with which the future air transportation system must cope. The FAA projects that demand for commercial passenger air travel in the United States (in terms of revenue passenger miles) will increase by 58 percent from 2005 through 2016. During that same time, the demand for air cargo (in terms of revenue cargo ton miles) will increase by 70 percent and the total number of instrument flight rule (IFR) aircraft operations handled by the FAA’s National Airspace System will increase by 27 percent (FAA, 2005). Growth in demand for air travel will stress every part of the air transportation system, especially airports. Demand already exceeds capacity at 5 of the 35 largest U.S. airports. Even if all of the improvements anticipated in the FAA’s Operational Evolution Plan are implemented, in 2013 demand will exceed capacity at 15 of the busiest airports.2 By 2020, even with improvements in technology and procedures and with the completion of runway construction projects not yet included in the Operational Evolution Plan, demand will exceed capacity at 18 major airports (FAA, 2004). The secretary of transportation and the FAA administrator highlight the importance of demand in the second paragraph of the cover letter in the Integrated Plan: “… travelers are returning to the [air transportation] system in large numbers. We must be prepared to accommodate this growing demand in the years ahead. Failure to do so will result in costly travel delays throughout the system and will almost certainly compromise our ability to create jobs and grow the economy.” The importance of demand is also highlighted in 1 To protect local water quality, airports must ensure that storm-water runoff complies with standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency and other state and local agencies for contamination by chemicals used to deice aircraft and runways, fuel spills, and other pollutants.—Ed. 2 The National Airspace System includes all ATM systems operated by the FAA. The Operational Evolution Plan is the FAA’s plan for modernizing the National Airspace System to accommodate an increase in demand of approximately 30 percent over the next 10 years (see <www.faa.gov/programs/OEP>). The work of the JPDO is intended to complement the Operational Evolution Plan by preparing for system improvements over the longer term.
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Technology Pathways: Assessing the Integrated Plan for a Next Generation Air Transportation System paragraph b-1 of the JPDO implementing legislation, which directs the JPDO to include in the integrated plan “a national vision statement for an air transportation system capable of meeting potential air traffic demand by 2025.” The text of the Integrated Plan often mentions the importance of meeting increased demand, but often as just one item among many, and sometimes the need to meet increased demand is lost altogether. For example, the Plan’s vision mentions customer needs, the global economy, and integration of civil and military operations but does not directly address the challenge of increased demand. Meeting increased demand is difficult because capacity must be increased while also satisfying enabling, interrelated requirements related to safety, security, environmental protection, consumer satisfaction, and industrial competitiveness. The difficulty of meeting performance goals in each of these other areas would be mitigated if demand were stagnant or declining, but it will be exacerbated if demand increases substantially, as it is projected to do. In other words, improvements in virtually every aspect of the air transportation system are required to meet a substantial increase in demand. Accordingly, the highest priority should be given to research and technology development that is most likely to facilitate large increases in capacity (in terms of passenger miles and cargo ton miles), especially for airspace and airports that are currently at or near capacity limits. The assessment committee drafted a vision statement consistent with these concerns: Create a U.S. air transportation system that meets the growing demand of the traveling public, shippers, and other system users while encouraging continuous improvement in capacity, efficiency, safety, security, competitiveness, environmental protection, and consumer satisfaction. GOALS The future vision for the air transportation system should be supported by research and technology goals leading to improved performance. Measurable long-term targets supported by sound analyses should be established to assess progress toward the goals. Research should support the establishment of quantifiable goals in areas where progress is difficult to measure. (NRC, 2003, p. 7) The statement of system goals and performance characteristics in the Integrated Plan helps provide some specificity to the JPDO’s vision by identifying qualitative objectives related to U.S. leadership, capacity, safety, environmental protection, national defense, and the security of the air transportation system. However, each of the descriptive goal statements in Chapter 3 of the Integrated Plan would be improved by adding quantifiable goals to the generic exhortations to do better in each area. Goals may be difficult to quantify in some areas, particularly with regard to the long-term future, but they are an essential input for evaluating operational concepts, research proposals, and technologies. The process of developing quantifiable goals will also help achieve the JPDO’s legislative mandate to explain how it derived performance characteristics for the future air transportation system. The description of goals related to capacity declares unequivocally that the system will include aircraft operator employees at over 5,000 airports. Infrastructure limitations and environmental concerns at small airports, however, are a serious impediment to the expanded use of many small airports. As of 2001, there were 5,025 public use airports in the United States. However, fewer than 3,900 public use airports had runways at least 3,000 feet long, and fewer than 3,600 public use airports had paved runways with runway lighting. Furthermore, the 213 busiest public airports (4.2 percent of the total number) accounted for 98.8 percent of all passenger enplanements. In addition, shifting a significant portion of the traveling public onto small aircraft compatible with small airports could increase airspace congestion and environmental effects. Heavy reliance on small aircraft carrying just a few passengers each would require more aircraft operations to carry the same number of travelers and increase total aircraft emissions. More than 80 percent of domestic intercity trips of 100 miles or longer begin or end in one of the nation’s 160 largest metropolitan areas, and so a substantial increase in the use of small aircraft as a means of intercity travel would tend to exacerbate congestion at large airports that in many cases have little or no spare capacity (NRC, 2002). The assessment committee acknowledges that efforts to distribute traffic to airports with unused capacity may help meet increased demand, but it seems premature to commit to a highly decentralized air transportation system that relies on 5,000 airports as a solution to the key challenge of increased demand. Quantifiable goals are worthwhile, but only if supported by credible analyses. The Integrated Plan misses the opportunity to establish consumer satisfaction as an area of direct interest to the agencies involved in developing NGATS. This omission stands in contrast to the situation in Europe, where the aviation community as a whole (not just industry) puts goals related to consumer satisfaction on a par with goals related to other factors such as safety, security, and capacity (NRC, 2003). The description of goals related to national defense should discuss the value of reducing the impact of special-use airspace on civil operations and capacity. This discussion should also address the importance of a smooth transition of the ATM system in time of crisis from civil to military operational control. On 9/11, there was no plan, and the process did not go smoothly. Also, the national defense goal (“Ensure our national defense”) and the objectives related to national defense are overly broad, given the supporting role that NGATS plays in national defense. The objectives are
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Technology Pathways: Assessing the Integrated Plan for a Next Generation Air Transportation System also inconsistent with the supporting discussion in the Integrated Plan. RISK-BASED APPROACH One way for the JPDO to carry out its mandate to coordinate priorities among federal agencies and industry would be through the systematic use of risk management and trade studies to help set research and technology priorities, with the highest priority placed on activities that will help the system meet increased demand. Requirements should likewise be based on a systematic approach to resolving issues related to increased demand, through the creation and assessment of multiple candidate scenarios and operational concepts. In the long run, a systematic, coordinated effort is essential to maximize efficiency and avoid delays, cost overruns, and duplicative research and technology development, all of which could be enormously expensive on such a mammoth undertaking. The assessment committee acknowledges that the goal of developing an air transportation system with the flexibility to efficiently support increased operations by all types of users, including general aviation aircraft, military aircraft, rotorcraft, and small jets is generally attractive. However, while overall demand for passenger and cargo services is certain to increase, the commercial viability of large fleets of small jets or unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) is speculative, and plans to improve the air transportation system should take this distinction into account. In other words, it may be helpful for the future air transportation system to accommodate a large growth in small jets and UAVs, but it is essential for it to accommodate a large increase in conventional transports, because they will be an essential component of efforts to double or triple the capacity of the air transportation system over the next 20 years. Trying to build a system that can do everything for everyone increases the risk that the solutions ultimately defined will be unaffordable and take too long to implement. Even so, the JPDO should strive to develop a system that meets the needs of existing users and has the flexibility to respond to changing requirements and technologies. Allocation of resources should be guided by quantified risk assessments that are based on sound models, simulations, and figures of merit related to the risk that research will fall short in terms of cost, schedule, and/or its contribution to the performance of the air transportation system. This is especially important when it comes to security measures, which too often are focused on the problems of the past or the desire to increase public confidence, even if they involve deploying systems and procedures of questionable effectiveness, rather than the essential tasks of reducing current and future security threats and educating the public to understand security concerns and what is being done to address them. ASSESSING GOALS AND POLICIES In general, the appropriateness of a strategy to improve the performance of a large system can be determined by testing the proposed goals and polices for consistency and compatibility with key implementation and operational factors (see Appendix F). The next edition of the Integrated Plan should elevate increased demand to the primary challenge and ensure that each IPT is focused on helping to meet this challenge. The work of the IPTs should be organized accordingly. As described in the Integrated Plan, the mission of some IPTs is to achieve new or improved capabilities in specific areas, while the mission of others is more generic or is limited to program coordination and alignment of resources. For example, the Integrated Plan describes the following missions for the Security IPT: Serve as the central activity to ensure alignment—operational effectiveness and suitability—of appropriate processes, policies, and technologies in the transformation to NGATS. Ensure program coordination with stakeholders in the aviation industry, airports, operators, service industries, academia, and related associations. Align resources necessary for timely development of candidate security systems. Align resources necessary to ensure timely acquisition, deployment, and life cycle support of transformational security systems. (NGATS JPDO, 2004, p. 26) The above missions fail to acknowledge that security measures continue to suppress business travel that historically has been the key to the profitability of the airline industry. Security concerns continue to reduce the propensity for business travel, especially over shorter distances. Since the September 11th attacks, the advantage of air travel versus other modes of transport for short-haul travel has been reduced due to concerns about the increased processing time. For shorter haul trips this processing time is a significant percentage of the total travel time and as this percentage increases, more business travelers will use substitutes. (FAA, 2005, p. III-18) The ability to rapidly screen passengers—and to convince business travelers that screening times will be consistently short—could have a major impact on overall demand, the profitability of the airline industry, and even the survival of some carriers. Consistently short screening times are also likely to increase consumer satisfaction of all travelers. The mission of the security IPT should reflect these realities. Finding 2-1. Demand. The health of the U.S. economy is dependent upon an air transportation system that efficiently satisfies demand for passenger travel and air cargo. Anything that limits the ability of the air transportation system to efficiently satisfy demand is harmful to air transportation
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Technology Pathways: Assessing the Integrated Plan for a Next Generation Air Transportation System providers, users of the air transportation system, and the national economy as a whole. The JPDO Integrated Plan discusses the importance of demand, but often in the context of other objectives that are given equal or greater weight. Recommendation 2-1. Demand. The Integrated Plan should clearly state that increased demand is the key driver that mandates implementation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System. The JPDO should refocus its efforts on development of a systematic, risk-based approach for achieving the primary objective, which is to resolve demand issues and increase capacity, while also satisfying enabling, interrelated requirements for safety, security, environmental effects, consumer satisfaction, and industrial competitiveness. The Integrated Plan should make sure that secondary objectives, such as alignment of existing interagency efforts, do not overshadow the primary objective. The JPDO should establish goals related to cost, schedule, and level of performance that can be quantified using appropriate figures of merit. Multiple candidate scenarios and operational concepts should be defined and assessed in terms of the risk that they will fail to achieve these goals. REFERENCES DRI-WEFA, Inc. 2002. The National Economic Impact of Civil Aviation. Waltham, Mass.: Global Insight, Inc. Available online at <www.globalinsight.com/Highlight/HighlightDetail174.htm>. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). 2004. Capacity Needs in the National Airspace System. Washington, D.C.: Federal Aviation Administration. Available online at <www.faa.gov/arp/publications/reports/index.cfm>. FAA. 2005. FAA Aerospace Forecasts, Fiscal Years 2005 to 2016. Office of Aviation Policy and Plans. FAA Aviation Forecasts, Selected Aviation Demand Measures. Table 1-10, p. I-41. Washington, D.C.: FAA. Available online at <http://apo.faa.gov/forecast05/Forecast_for_2005.htm>. National Research Council (NRC). 2002. Future Flight: A Review of the Small Aircraft Transportation System. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. Available online at <http://books.nap.edu/catalog/10319.html>. NRC. 2003. Securing the Future of U.S. Air Transportation: A System in Peril. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. Available online at <http://books.nap.edu/html/system_in_peril/final_report.pdf>. Next Generation Air Transportation System Joint Planning and Development Office (NGATS JPDO). 2004. Next Generation Air Transportation System Integrated Plan. Washington, D.C.: JPDO. Available online at <www.jpdo.aero>.
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