Spotlight on NextGen – Why Accelerating Infrastructure Matters

Last week, the Obama Administration announced the selection of 14 high-priority infrastructure projects for accelerated permitting and environmental review. As a frequent flier with enthusiasm for a modernized air traffic system with fewer delays, I thought to highlight one of those projects: the Next Generation Air Transportation System Infrastructure Project. This infrastructure modernization project has the potential to save time and money for the air traveler while delivering environmental benefits for communities on the ground. And the tools to accelerate it are within the control of the Federal government.

NextGen” refers to the next generation of air traffic control—a system that will rely on 21st century capabilities like satellite-based GPS systems instead of decades-old technologies like ground-based radar and navigation systems. Why did we select a NextGen project as one of our 14 priorities? On August 31, along with the leadership of the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration, I convened a roundtable discussion with chief executives from Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, United, and US Airways to hear their ideas on accelerating the benefits of a modernized air traffic system. The leaders were clear: based on investments the industry has already made, implementing fuel-efficient, satellite-based air traffic control procedures will result in reduced delays, energy consumption, and emissions while expanding air traffic capacity.

This project will require safety and environmental reviews – regulatory processes that could be accelerated without compromising their protective value. And the sooner we get that done, the sooner the Nation can start scaling up the system and reaping the larger benefits.

To help explain those benefits, the FAA has published a video that compares a new NextGen route to the conventional approach into one of Houston’s runways.  Unlike conventional air routes that zig-zag through the sky based on both dated technology and the placement of ground-based navigation aids, the new NextGen “Performance Based Navigation” routes are smooth and direct.  As a result, this project will maximize the efficiency of the airspace in the entire Houston “Metroplex” and help make our safe aviation system even safer, while reducing fuel consumption and flight delays.

Based on the results of this pilot project – which will take place with full transparency on a public-facing dashboard – we will identify those promising ideas that work and scale them across the country.

Aneesh Chopra is US Chief Technology Officer

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