FAA office to get help on easing crowded skies

National Airspace System Operational Evolution plan

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Federal Aviation Administration leaders are joining with union and industry officials to create a plan they hope will help a new air traffic services organization set priorities and manage solutions in modernizing the National Airspace System.

The plan will help guide the FAA as it complies with recent legislation and a presidential order that changed the structure and leadership of the agency to make day-to-day air traffic management more efficient and make the agency operate more like a business.

Continuing delays at the busiest airports, which are operating at or above capacity, are driving the high-level NAS Operational Evolution plan, said Monte Belger, FAA acting deputy administrator, at the Jan. 17 Air Traffic Control Association Inc. meeting in Washington, D.C. The plan will guide the agency's regulations, acquisitions and investments.

"We spend every Monday afternoon with senior managers to go over every program and make sure it relates to the problem, the cause and the solution," Belger said.

The Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century boosts investment in modernization and airport construction by more than $10 billion to a total of $40 billion during the next three years. Under the terms of the act, the agency must appoint a chief operating officer.

An executive order signed in December directs the FAA to create a performance-based organization (PBO) for air traffic control, to be led by the COO once the position has been filled. The PBO incorporates parts of the agency's Air Traffic Services organization and its Research and Acquisitions organization. The latter is responsible for major technology developments, such as systems to automate controller workstations and a critical system that will allow pilots to use satellite navigation.

As government and industry stakeholders argue the roles of the COO and advisory boards, the NAS Operational Evolution plan should be used to drive those decisions in the right direction, said Peter Challan, FAA dep-uty associate administrator for Air Traffic Services. "This is our plan," he said. "This is a plan that is holistic."

However, many details need to be ironed out. "The [organization] sets the stage for the future of aviation, but there are a lot of questions unanswered," said Charlie Huettner, senior aviation policy adviser in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Although the PBO will be responsible for day-to-day air traffic services, it is not clear what performance measures will be used or what other parts of the FAA will do, he said.

Evolution, not revolution

The draft version of the National Airspace System Operational Evolution plan can be found online at www.caasd.org/nas-evol/index.html.

The top-level document looks at possible solutions for four key problems:

  • En route congestion.
  • Late arrivals/departures.
  • Airport weather conditions.
  • En route severe weather.

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