Press Release

Committee Assesses Status of NextGen Aviation Initiative

By SpaceRef Editor
September 12, 2008
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(Washington, DC) – Today, The House Committee on Science and Technology held a hearing to examine the status of the Next Generation Air Transportation System initiative, known as NextGen. Committee Members explored key issues related to the initiative and the interagency Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO), the organization entrusted with NextGen planning and research coordination.

“America’s air transportation system has long been the envy of the world, and it is an important contributor to the nation’s economic vitality and quality of life,” said Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN). “Yet it is clear that it is a system under stress, and it needs to change.”

“NextGen is the national effort to transform the nation’s aging air traffic control system so that it can accommodate the large increases in travel demand forecast to occur over the next two decades,” said Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Chairman Mark Udall (D-CO). “We really need this system today – the FAA computer outage just a few weeks ago demonstrated the vulnerabilities of our system, when hundreds of flights were delayed, damaging our economy and interfering with family’s vacations – and today’s hearing will help get us move forward.”

NextGen was established by Congress in its Vision 100 FAA Reauthorization that was enacted in late 2003. Last year, the Committee on Science and Technology and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee worked together to frame provisions in H.R. 2881, the FAA Reauthorization bill, that sought to strengthen the interagency NextGen planning and development effort and to move NextGen R&D into new operational capabilities as soon as practicable.

NextGen utilizes resources and expertise of the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Department of Defense, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy in a joint effort to transform the nation’s air traffic control system so that it will be able to handle the anticipated dramatic future increases in travel demand without compromising safety or the environment.

FAA recently modified the JPDO’s position and status within the FAA. The agency added a Senior Vice President for NextGen and Operations Planning to the Air Traffic Organization (ATO). Also, the status of the NextGen JPDO was downgraded in the FAA in the restructuring. This move is directly counter to the intent of the provisions in H.R. 2881.

“We have done extensive work on the best way to move the NextGen process forward and there is wide agreement within the aviation community that JPDO should report directly to the FAA administrator,” said Rep. Jerry Costello (D-IL), a member of the Committee on Science and Technology and Chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee. “More than anything, the Director of JPDO must have the ability to aggressively marshal the various agencies involved to make NextGen a priority. Only then will we make the necessary progress to upgrade our aviation system, and this is the approach we have taken in H.R. 2881, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2007.”

“It was troubling to find out about the restructuring of the FAA’s NextGen program from news accounts– and not from the FAA itself,” said Gordon. “We need for the FAA to work cooperatively with us if we are to fulfill our oversight responsibilities, and we need to hear why the FAA decided to take such a step in the waning days of the current Administration.”

Last month, a shutdown of a critical computer system stranded hundreds of aircraft and delayed thousands of passengers.

“America’s aviation system is vital to the continued health of our economy and our competitiveness in the wider world beyond our shores, as well as being important to our quality of life,” said Udall. “We need to ensure that we do all that is necessary to maintain its health.”

“We should have no illusions about the magnitude of the task–NextGen is a systems engineering, management, and regulatory challenge as complex as any the nation has ever faced–and success is not guaranteed,” said Gordon. “The next President needs to make the NextGen initiative a national priority and ensure that it is given the resources, management attention, and sense of urgency that it warrants.”

This was the last hearing of the full Science and Technology Committee in the 110th Congress, with one Subcommittee hearing remaining. In this Congress, the Committee held a total of 122 hearings, passed 79 pieces of legislation through the House of Representatives, and had 24 bills incorporated into eight public laws.

For more information, please visit the Committee’s website.

SpaceRef staff editor.