NextGen is About Safety

Robert Chapin

The NextGen program is an ongoing effort to modernize the airspace system in the United States.  It encompasses several long-term objectives, looking forward through 2020 and beyond.  I use the term “ongoing” because I believe this program grew from the public perception in the 1990s that the government was relying on decades-obsolete equipment for air traffic control, and had not even fully transitioned to solid-state electronics. Some of those concerns have been put to rest, and there is now a more proactive approach to upgrading the entire system.

Safety is the top priority of NextGen in the sense that it is the only one of the four “pillars” that is public facing.  If all future plans are seamlessly executed, there should be a very high standard of safety maintained, and this will be championed as the result of years of improvements.  On the other hand, changes in flexibility, sustainability, and economic impact would never be noticed unless a serious problem arises.

I believe flexibility is the second priority because the airspace system needs room to grow.  The remaining two pillars, sustainability and economic impact perhaps temper the plans with cost effectiveness and environmental considerations.  Each is important.

For me, the most noticeable effects of NextGen will be the further integration of GPS and ADS-B technologies into flight procedures.  This means more airports will be open on cloudy days and more airplanes will rely on satellite navigation rather than ground-based or inertial systems.  It will also mean less radio communication and a transition to at least partial text messaging between pilots and ATC.  Aviation has a very tech-savvy future.

11 Nov 2012

On Assignment



Comment Feed


  • Jason says:

    Hi Robert. What are your thoughts on solar flare disruptions, and how we may prevent them?

    • Robert Chapin says:

      Hi Jason, I think we will always have backups that don’t involve satellite navigation. Also, there will be unavoidable disruptions during the most severe solar storms. Those are very rare, so the impact is small when compared to disruptions caused by thunderstorms.

      • Jason says:

        I just read an article in Flying magazine – FAA Responds to Users on Future Navigation System. It states that the FAA will retain a minimum operating network (MON) of VORs to mitigate the impact of a GPS outage.

  • Ryan says:

    I don’t know how i feel about the whole “text messaging” idea for communications. I feel it is a better option to speak with ATC verbally for specific clarification.

  • Prof Wall says:

    Good points that this technology will allow airports to remain open in now-limiting adverse weather and reduce communication load…both large NextGen benefits.

  • Brad Coffman says:

    Very good point about flexibility, sustainability, and economic impact only being noticed if something was to go wrong. doesnt this still apply to safety as well though?

    • Robert Chapin says:

      I think Americans are too proud of the airline safety record to let it go unnoticed. Safety is demanded at all times, and people do notice.

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