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Assessing the Research and Development Plan for the Next Generation Air Transportation System: Summary of a Workshop 2 Key Issues Over the course of the workshop discussions a number of themes became apparent, although, by design, the workshop was not a consensus-generating activity. URGENCY AND PRIORITIES The issue of a sensed lack of urgency on the part of the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) was mentioned most often by workshop participants. There clearly are economic pressures to move quickly, and the rest of the international aviation world is moving forward, particularly in Europe. However, the JPDO is still proposing research and development (R&D) that needs to be done rather than articulating a clear program. Several participants stated that if the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) is to be implemented by the targeted dates, applications and development need to be started immediately, with proposed completion dates set for individual pieces of the program. Several participants stated that outreach for NextGen is important and that more aviation professionals, pilots, and even the public need to be made aware of NextGen. One participant suggested that NextGen should be proposed as the next “Apollo project,” with funding dedicated to implementing NextGen within the next 10 or 12 years rather than by the JPDO goal of 2025. However, to do so, several participants noted that the JPDO needs to be more certain and more explicit about the benefits to be gained through implementation of the program. One participant stated that at present, the JPDO is confident of achieving less than half of its goals. Some participants felt it is urgent to model the whole program to determine the extent of the benefits that can be realized. These benefits then could be incorporated into clear statements of goals to be achieved. This information is critical to the JPDO’s ability to encourage other federal entities, such as the Department of Defense (DOD), to increase their participation, as well as to convince Congress to invest in this program. Tied to the concern about the lack of clearly stated goals is the concern that prioritization of the individual pieces of the program has not been done. It is important to consider how best to spend limited research dollars and to determine the likely payoff for particular investments. Most participants felt that it is important to determine whether the proposed work will allow NextGen to meet the challenge of handling the projected system capacity. Many participants also expressed a realization that the task of prioritization is overwhelming, especially because each of the many operational improvements outlined in the plan represent a scope of activity that would be handled by a government agency. However, many participants felt strongly that the JPDO should identify what elements are the most time-critical and who should decide these issues. Several participants also advocated the development of a process to determine whether the solutions proposed can solve the problem. One participant suggested specifically that JPDO develop a process to identify the human resources needed to do the research, design the systems, and demonstrate them. Further, another participant suggested that the JPDO map the proposed R&D on a critical path and then determine if there are gaps that will prevent the program from succeeding. If so, additional R&D would have to be added to the program, or plans for mitigating these gaps would have to be developed. From there, it will be necessary to determine who is responsible for executing each R&D element and for
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Assessing the Research and Development Plan for the Next Generation Air Transportation System: Summary of a Workshop ensuring that the work proceeds on schedule. The concern on the part of these workshop participants was that if this prioritization is not done, the bulk of the work that will be done will be non-priority work or that the work will focus only on marginal improvements. ARTICULATION OF FOCUS, SPECIFIC GOALS, AND OUTCOMES A second issue raised by many of the participants was the JPDO’s inability to articulate the goals of the NextGen program. The JPDO outlined a large number of excellent research tasks in its presentations, most of which will likely be required to support future U.S. airspace system needs. However, many participants felt that there was a lack of focus on the most important future needs: airspace and airport capacity. Further, they felt that the JPDO had not done an adequate job of stating specific, real improvements that could be gained through implementation of the program. Several participants also felt that the JPDO had not been clear in expressing what would be achieved. For example, in stating that NextGen would increase throughput two- to threefold, it was not immediately clear to some participants whether the JPDO was referring to an increase in flights or in passengers carried. They felt that the next version of the Integrated Working Plan (IWP) would benefit from further clarification. Several participants also suggested that some of the difficulty in articulating the benefits to be achieved could reflect the lack of a baseline against which to measure improvements. In this regard, a number of concerns were raised: Some participants noted an overreliance on modeling as a mechanism for predicting improvements. Modeling of the component systems that carry out functions is necessary for success at the broad enterprise level. Many participants felt that the JPDO may need to move to the systems level and make some assumptions about specific systems to get enough detail to make decisions about the best path to take. Several participants reminded the JPDO about the need to consider impacts broadly across a full life cycle; sometimes long-term impacts are not considered when short-term benefits look attractive (e.g., the large-scale use of biofuels could adversely affect the production of food). Some participants noted that in overspecifying problems (i.e., promising too much), the JPDO may end up with no implementation, due to the high cost associated with the final program. Regarding the fourth concern, several participants noted that the large scope of research still needed at this point could be seen as an impediment to meeting the dates targeted for implementation of the NextGen program. They suggested doing something to reduce the scope of the program and advance the dates. For example, one participant suggested that the JPDO restructure NextGen, either through more demonstrations, by focusing on a regional approach, or by selecting targeted issues that might be used as illustrations of what the NextGen program could achieve in terms of increased throughput without a loss of safety. The execution of a demonstration or an individual targeted piece of the plan could produce evidence that the system can work. Many workshop participants felt that if the application is chosen wisely, it could incorporate the major tenets of the system in one package. This approach could focus the overall plan and would clearly highlight how all of the proposed tasks will yield real benefits in the future. It was further felt by several participants that demonstrations of this sort would make it more difficult for a new administration to reject the continuation of the NextGen program. The motivation for continuing NextGen would also be more visible to the public, especially in the change to a new administration. Several participants agreed that a demonstration of improved air operations could therefore be useful to a new administration as something to cite as an early accomplishment.
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Assessing the Research and Development Plan for the Next Generation Air Transportation System: Summary of a Workshop For example, one participant noted that one suggested project would focus on increasing airport landing capacity using a “concrete solution,” i.e., by building more runways or better utilizing current runways. One way of doing this might be to combine many of the tasks now listed, such as piloted simulations, flight tests, and prototype demonstrations, to achieve the goal of reducing the required separation between parallel runways for use under instrument meteorological conditions. A substantial reduction in the spacing had been shown by NASA to be technologically feasible about 10 years ago. Several participants agreed that implementation of closely spaced parallel runways might provide as much as a 30 percent improvement, with minimal environmental impact for local communities. Another participant added that to provide a capacity increase beyond, say, 30 percent, the number of available runways must be substantially increased. He went on to say that the technology that enables the use of closely spaced parallel runways and the widespread building of such runways has the potential to make the NextGen targets (a two- or threefold capacity increase) realistic. Many of the participants recognized that this approach to increasing airport landing capacity might accomplish only a portion of the currently envisioned program, leaving some items on the table. However, it would represent a visible start to addressing the problem. Another alternative suggested was to develop opportunities within the existing plan for innovations, such as ideas with a big impact that might increase capacity by up to five times. DEFINITION OF PROGRAM BOUNDARIES During the workshop, several participants expressed concern with the narrow boundaries and inward focus (at the FAA and NASA) of the NextGen R&D program. Participants suggested that a number of connections needed to be made or strengthened with other constituents, such as airport authorities, controllers, local communities, industry, DOD, and international organizations. Several participants pointed out that the bulk of current NextGen R&D funding is coming from the FAA and NASA and wondered why DOD and industry, for example, were not providing funding for this initiative. To succeed, many participants felt that NextGen must pull all of these constituents together to, for example, develop common themes and leverage scarce resources. In addition, some participants noted that JPDO needs to, at some level, address both air traffic management (gate to gate) and non-air-traffic management (curb to curb) pieces of the system. In this area, they felt that JPDO needs to include in its planning considerations the advantages and disadvantages of multimodal transportation initiatives. Many participants believe that NextGen needs to connect with these multimodal efforts, but the JPDO also needs to be concerned that this connectivity does not strip resources needed to focus on critical air-side issues. In addition, there is a concern that an interagency focus misses issues that exist solely within aviation, including issues of incentives for operators to use the system, lack of sharing across competitors, and private-sector privacy issues. In particular, how users respond to NextGen policies and systems, how incentives, including economic incentives, might be used to help control the system, and the relationship between user behavior and system performance represent research areas that seem to be given little emphasis. Regarding the issue of global harmonization, many participants felt that the JPDO needs to be concerned that solutions work everywhere, that is, both domestically and overseas. These participants felt that the presentations were U.S.-centric, and they were not convinced that the mechanisms planned for the NextGen goal of global harmonization were sufficient. As an example, one participant asked whether the International Civil Aviation Organization was the correct mechanism for achieving global harmonization. Several participants were concerned that one set of capabilities needs to be defined for worldwide use. Issues of fleet mix and the ability of a carrier to appropriately equip its individual aircraft were the concern here. Concern was also expressed about how information sharing might be arranged across different international agencies.
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Assessing the Research and Development Plan for the Next Generation Air Transportation System: Summary of a Workshop INABILITY TO COMMUNICATE THROUGH THE INITIAL INTEGRATED WORKING PLAN Many participants felt that the next version of the IWP should provide a vehicle for communicating the NextGen plans and that it should be widely understandable to a broad audience. Specifically, they felt that the IWP needs to be accessible to the public; public opinion leaders; operating agencies, which have to implement the plan; and Congress, which has to fund NextGen. As part of the communication regarding safety data, one of these participants felt it was important to recognize that the goal is not to blame those who report safety problems but to understand the contributors to safety issues (e.g., technology as well as people). He felt it was also important for the JPDO to communicate what it means to “manage” risk. Although most participants agreed that the work that went into creation of the IWP was monumental, they also felt that the current draft is difficult to comprehend. Many participants found version 0.2 of the IWP to be an intractable document as currently structured, one that does not clearly articulate the goals and anticipated benefits of NextGen; further, it was viewed as not being well integrated or prioritized, as giving the appearance of separate stovepipes, and as demonstrating a lack of effective top-level systems engineering. Although a large number of operational improvements were noted in the IWP, it was not clear what would drive decisions about final system requirements. As just one example, although many of the workshop participants spoke about passing information on a shared information network, the types of data that need to be passed on this grid were not specified. Most participants felt that there is a need for coherence and integration across the various working groups and in R&D plans. For example, if a driver is airport capacity, and additional runways are the proposed solution, then the environmental impacts of the solution need to be considered. One specific example was a plan to satisfy the capacity needs in the San Francisco/Oakland Bay area that might require extensive filling in of the Bay, which could lead to an environmental issue. Addressing these challenges was one of the recommendations of the report of the ad hoc Committee on Technology Pathways, Assessing the Integrated Plan for a Next Generation Air Transportation System.1 Several workshop participants suggested that the challenge of maintaining coherence and integration across the various JPDO working groups could be addressed to some extent by having the JPDO management listen more carefully and formally to the working groups and by providing them with more direction. Some of the participants also suggested involving industry more prominently in the activities of the JPDO working groups. Addressing these issues may be difficult, though, because, as most participants noted, many issues and operational improvements are worded imprecisely in the IWP. This imprecision makes it difficult to understand (1) the ownership of an item and (2) what is being done or proposed. For example, some participants noted that many terms present in the IWP (e.g., “4-D trajectory”) are not well defined and lack a commonly agreed-upon definition. Imprecise definitions lead to difficulties in predicting or modeling the impact of the implementation of changes. Some participants suggested that, at some level, the imprecision may be intentional, leaving room for different interpretations and recognizing that terms might be used differently by different players. Many workshop participants ultimately felt, however, that it might be useful for the JPDO to be clearer about the definitions of the new terms in the IWP. Participants also felt that the IWP was not well structured from the research perspective and stressed that the document should make research priorities clear. Moreover, participants felt that the current draft IWP contains too much unprioritized detail that is not properly structured to plan what research needs to be done. Further, other participants felt the IWP does not appear to be the most effective way to oversee or manage the research. Many participants felt that key questions with decision points needed to be articulated in the plan. Finally, some of the workshop participants noted a definitional problem in the IWP discussion of research. In the current document, work ranging from basic 1 National Research Council, Assessing the Integrated Plan for a Next Generation Air Transportation System, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2005.
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Assessing the Research and Development Plan for the Next Generation Air Transportation System: Summary of a Workshop research (category 6.1 in DOD parlance) through applied research (6.2) to operational systems development (6.7) is all described generically as “research,” making it difficult to identify how close to implementation different projects might be. Coupled with the above was a concern among many workshop participants that certain types of research, such as research in human factors, which need to be considered early in the process, have not been addressed sufficiently. These participants noted that human factors is an area that needs to be intentionally articulated early and throughout the program, since problems that are not addressed early can be difficult to fix later. IMPLEMENTATION ISSUES Several participants expressed concern that even if the IWP were better focused and well articulated, problems remain in moving from application to implementation of the program. Three specific issues were raised in this regard: the development of a transition path, the resources needed, and the appropriate organization to guide the implementation. Transition Path The first issue raised by workshop participants was the difficulty in defining the transition path from basic research to implementation. Concern was expressed by several participants that the JPDO management has produced a timid plan where bold steps are needed. Specifically, they wondered (1) what are the big, iconic decisions to be made and (2) what is the next decision that needs to be made? These participants felt that the JPDO needed to work to define performance requirements and then bring partners on board to develop systems. Several participants recognized that there is a trade-off between tactical and strategic planning and that it is hard to identify the sweet spots of that trade-off. They argued that strategic planning will have to be done first to demonstrate the value of individual concepts, but that the JPDO will then have to provide incentives for moving those concepts into implementation. In creating those incentives, some participants pointed out, it is critical to consider the right amount of stick in relation to carrot. These participants expressed several concerns over the ability of the JPDO to provide this transition path. First, one participant asked if the JPDO needs to be able to use research transition teams to look at research being done by other agencies (not just NASA) to deliver technology readiness level (TRL) 12 requirements to organizations. Second, another participant cited a human factor challenge concerning management work stations and expressed concern that NASA return to a higher TRL, enabling greater effectiveness in moving from concept to design. Third, another participant pointed out that there is a flow contingency management3 challenge and also said that it is important that the gap between advanced operational capability and flight operations capability not end up being fixed and bolted on later. 2 TRL 1observation and reporting of basic principlesis the lowest level of technology maturation. Midlevel TRLs (5-6) deal with validation and demonstration in a relevant environment, and the highest levels (7-9) are concerned with system demonstration and testing in an operational environment. 3 Flow contingency management ensures the efficient management of major flows of traffic while minimizing the impact on other operations. See NextGen Concept of Operations version 2 at http://www.jpdo.gov/library/NextGen_v2.0.pdf. Accessed June 3, 2008.
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Assessing the Research and Development Plan for the Next Generation Air Transportation System: Summary of a Workshop Resources Concerns were raised by many workshop participants that there may not be sufficient resources to enable development of these transition paths. First, it was not clear how the NextGen R&D activity is being financed. That is, it was not clear to workshop participants who is ultimately responsible for paying for the R&D needed to get to implementation of the program. One participant wondered, for example, about the extent to which FAA and NASA programs support the JPDO 5-year goals. Others also wondered how the JPDO and other government agencies can win industry acceptance of the outcomes of this research. In this regard, several participants wondered whether the impacts of airline business models (e.g., hub and spoke) on the efficiency of the air system were being considered. Another participant wondered whether the overall affordability of the system was being either studied or addressed and whether bond underwriters and others from the financial sector had been involved in plans for financing airport construction, for example. Implementation Organization Although the JPDO has had 4 to 5 years of experience, most participants felt that it did not seem to have learned what works and what doesn’t. Further, they felt that the JPDO does not provide a good organizational model for implementing NextGen because the JPDO is first and foremost a “planning” agency, not a “program” agency; the JPDO does not have implementation authority, and the issue of authority is currently what most limits the JPDO’s ability to be effective in moving the NextGen program forward. Thus, the question was raised of what kind of mechanism should be created to follow the JPDO. Suggestions were provided about a potential structure for this organization. It might be, for example, a single agency, with single budget and implementation authority. Some participants saw it as a special program office; others saw it as a new federal agency. Some participants expressed a feeling that regardless of the structure, the post-JPDO organization needs to report to the FAA administrator to ensure program success. Whatever the final structure of this organization, many participants felt that it needs to be able to address issues such as the following: (1) Who decides that the network is secure? (2) Who is accountable? (3) Who owns each component of the system? and (4) How can systems be designed when threats are always in flux and the nature of the threat constantly changes? POLITICAL DIFFICULTIES The last key issue brought up in workshop discussions centered on political difficulties. Foremost among the workshop participants was a concern about the challenge of making difficult (politically charged) decisions. Government agencies tend to be risk-averse, and some participants felt that the lack of decision making is holding up the JPDO’s ability to move forward on NextGen’s research needs. A number of specific issues were identified that are difficult, but that participants felt will have to be addressed. For example, some participants raised the question of how to deal with the issue that although manufacturers are willing to invest in changes desired for environmental improvements, airlines are not willing to pay the additional costs; that is, there is an issue of the trade-off between outcome and cost constraints. Another issue of concern expressed by some was community opposition to proposed changes, such as the use of small existing airports as reliever airports. Opposition of this sort could push incremental changes rather than significant changes in the air traffic structure. Another issue is the process that is being followed in the development of NextGen. Many workshop participants expressed concern that not all voices (or, the wrong voicesthose of retired rather than active controllers) are being heard. Processes will have to be developed for requirements and certification that balance mandates against incentives and the impact of NextGen against economic factors and that incorporate systems-level
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Assessing the Research and Development Plan for the Next Generation Air Transportation System: Summary of a Workshop testing before policies are set. Specifically in regard to certification, some participants wondered where new methods of certification fit into the JPDO plans. They expressed concern that a lack of new methods may be a barrier to adoption. Many workshop participants argued that the current time and cost to certify new systems is a problem, exacerbated when requirements are not frozen and when there is no mechanism for certification along the way. Some of the participants strongly urged a research agenda that addresses improving the certification process. Several participants argued that better design of new systems can make transitions easier; thus, the ability to address certification issues at the design stage needs to be addressed. Many participants wondered whether it would be possible under a new system to get “precedent” coverage, and they suggested that policy research might be needed to address issues such as this and to accomplish the goal of new certification processes. They also raised particular concerns about the difficulty of developing requirements for equipage and certification of complex software. Finally, several workshop participants suggested that a new organization (or administrator) might have to be chartered to make these difficult calls. Most political organizations cannot make the difficult decisions that are needed. For example, some participants noted that decision making is particularly difficult for the FAA, which serves both aviation regulatory and promotional functions. However, fixing inhibiting policies will be critical to the success of NextGen. Thus, these participants felt that it might be necessary to do some research to determine what sort of agency would have to be created to make NextGen a reality. The agency created would have to possess certain characteristics. For example, it would need to be insulated from the changing priorities of Congress, perhaps in the same way as the nonpartisan Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC), with multiyear funding. One possibility suggested was a government-owned, private corporation agency, like the Tennessee Valley Authority or the U.S. Postal Service. However, most of the workshop participants also recognized that any programs arising from such an agency would have to be coordinated with the FAA; thus, a formal relationship between the two agencies might be needed. Several participants suggested that a congressional study might look into how this relationship might work.