Forming NextGen: From Vision to Reality
For more than a decade, the FAA has worked with stakeholders in the aviation community to research, plan, build, and deploy NextGen. We are delivering on our promise to transform the aviation system and accommodate all users in a changing environment. We have modernized most of the foundational and enabling NAS infrastructure required for NextGen. Now, NextGen provides the aviation community with the flexibility required to handle any demand, and we are looking to resolve the challenges of the future. This page tells the story of how we got here.
The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 opened U.S. aviation to the free market and contributed to rapid growth in air travel. Flight options increased, leading to lower airfares, more passengers, and higher customer expectations. By the late 1990s, the National Airspace System (NAS) was experiencing mounting congestion, with about one in every four flights delayed. Representatives from the government, industry, and the public were concerned about how the NAS could accommodate future air travel demands, given forecasts that, at the time, predicted large growth in aviation service needs through 2025. To resolve this challenge and ensure that the United States retained its leadership in global aviation, the federal government made major improvements in safety, security, and how we operate.
Vision 100: Change Was Needed
The need to modernize the NAS became paramount during the summer of 2000, when severe congestion and costly delays impeded air travel. Post-9/11 security requirements further constrained how people traveled and how cargo was transported. The Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry in 2002 recommended a multi-agency task force to develop an integrated plan to transform the U.S. air transportation system.
In 2003, Congress passed the Vision 100—Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act. The legislation established the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) to create a unified vision of what the U.S. air transportation system should deliver for the next generation and beyond. The JPDO had the task of developing and coordinating long-term research plans, as well as sponsoring cross-agency mission research.
The result of JPDO's efforts was the 2004 creation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System Integrated Plan, which defined high-level goals and requirements to transform the NAS. In addition to the Department of Transportation (DOT) and FAA, the plan involved other government agencies with responsibilities in air transportation, including NASA and the departments of Commerce, Defense, and Homeland Security.
NextGen Vision Evolves
Working closely with stakeholders, the FAA researched the feasibility of advanced concepts and their associated benefits. The aviation community understood that many of the concepts would produce positive business cases. The FAA refined the path that NextGen planners envisioned by curtailing and replacing some high-cost, high-risk, or low-benefit concepts based on research and industry feedback.
Concept of Operations Revealed
NextGen concept documents are designed to be revised as new information becomes available. Since the creation of the JPDO integrated plan, we fine-tuned the vision, clarified operational concepts, and validated strategies to provide greater insight into technologies that will modernize the NAS.
In 2007, the JPDO updated the original vision with the Concept of Operations for the Next Generation Air Transportation System to align with affordability and technical maturity. The document identified key research and policy issues that needed to be resolved to achieve national goals for air transportation. The FAA intended for the document to drive cross-agency research to validate the concepts, as well as eliminate operationally infeasible ideas.
The FAA published the NextGen Mid-Term Concept of Operations for the National Airspace System in 2011. The mid-term document is a stepping stone from the legacy system to the NextGen NAS envisioned by the JPDO. The document reflected areas to pursue during the transitional stage and updated implementation and program deployments. For example, the 2007 concept of operations was "curb-to-curb" in that it included passenger terminal operations. In the updated 2011 vision, the FAA focused on components of the NAS falling under the FAA's responsibility, namely the "gate-to-gate" phases. The updated vision remained consistent with the JPDO's broad set of objectives, including maintaining safety and security, increasing capacity and efficiency, ensuring access to airspace and airports, and lessening effects on the environment.
In many cases, the mid-term concept of operations presented ambitious, but not yet validated, operational descriptions intended to maximize benefits and flexibility for NAS users. The concept of operations outlined different potential outcomes for the future, which would depend on insights gained by evolving concepts. The FAA published The Future of the NAS in 2016 to explain how technology would be used to meet the original mid-term concept. The document reflected those insights from concept evolution and technology assessments, and assisted the FAA in prioritizing future investments. It helped mature the vision for TBO.
Between the releases of these NextGen concept documents, the FAA published other documents that addressed accommodating the continuous growth in the scope of the NAS. We published the Integration of Civil Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in the NAS Roadmap in 2013 (updated in 2018), Performance Based Navigation NAS Navigation Strategy in 2016, Vision for Trajectory Based Operations in 2017, and UAS Traffic Management Concept of Operations in 2018 (updated in 2020).
Collaborating with the Aviation Community
In 2010, the DOT established the NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC) as a federal body responsible for responding to specific assignments from the FAA. The NAC comprises approximately 30 senior executives representing aircraft operators, international stakeholders, airports, labor unions, manufacturers, environmental interest groups, the Department of Defense, and NASA. The advisory committee completes assignments related to concepts, requirements, operational capabilities, the associated use of technology, and other considerations to operations that affect the future air traffic management system. Additionally, the advisory committee proposes nonbinding recommendations to the FAA. For example, the NAC identified the highest benefit of NextGen capabilities for stakeholders. The NextGen Priorities Joint Implementation Plan, first published in 2014 and since updated, describes ready-to-implement activities that align FAA and aviation community priorities.
The FAA and its international partners work through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to develop a globally connected and harmonized air traffic management system. As the aviation technical body of the United Nations, ICAO provides a forum for its 192 member states to adopt and implement international aviation standards. The FAA provides representatives for all expert panels considered necessary for international harmonization. By influencing plans through working groups, we help direct global air traffic modernization and mitigate operational risks. The FAA helped lead the revision of the global air traffic management roadmap described by the ICAO Global Air Navigation Plan, which defines the course of world aviation systems for the next 20 years.
The FAA collaborates directly with key international partners and regional groups on relevant air traffic management modernization topics. For example, together with the Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research (SESAR) organization, we periodically update the NextGen–SESAR State of Harmonization, which summarizes progress toward global interoperability between the continents. We maintain international agreements with the European Union, Japan, and Singapore for joint research and development of future air traffic systems.
Through these agreements, the FAA engages its partners to support the adoption of U.S. standards as globally accepted standards. We also participate with the U.S. Trade and Development Agency and Department of Commerce to cooperate with Brazil, China, and India to ensure U.S. aviation standards are accepted worldwide. Collaborating with the international aviation community has proven to result in greater interoperability of avionics, communications protocols, and operational methods.
Coordinating with Federal Partners
Our engagement with external government agencies through the NextGen Executive Board, NextGen Executive Weather Panel, and other collaborative bodies allows us to leverage stakeholder expertise while gathering resources to advance NAS modernization. We work closely with the departments of Commerce, Defense, and Homeland Security; NASA; National Geospatial Intelligence Agency; National Transportation Safety Board; and other critical contributors as needed.
Involving the FAA Workforce
The FAA workforce is an essential component of NextGen development. Our labor unions collaborate with the FAA at national, regional, and local levels to better understand requirements and contribute to a changing aviation system. These unions coordinate with their memberships and engage subject matter experts to participate in and co-lead design teams, human-involved assessments, and program development and implementation. As we lay the foundation for the airspace system of the future, the FAA workforce is represented in NextGen working groups to communicate recommendations and to ensure employees have the training necessary to operate the future NAS.
Developing and Validating Concepts
The FAA established the Florida NextGen Test Bed in 2008 to generate industry-driven concepts that advance NextGen. Located next to Daytona Beach International Airport and near Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, FL, the research facility provides a platform where early-stage NextGen concepts can be integrated, demonstrated, and evaluated. Industry partners meet at the testbed to incorporate their NextGen products into the NAS in a controlled setting. The facility contains more than two dozen NAS systems. For multi-site demonstrations, the Test Bed can remotely connect with other FAA laboratories, government partner sites, industry, and academia.
Another test facility was dedicated in 2010: the NextGen Integration and Evaluation Capability Laboratory at the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center near Atlantic City, NJ. Using simulated and actual NAS equipment, the facility provides a futuristic NextGen gate-to-gate environment with advanced data collection capabilities to support integration and evaluation of new technologies and concepts. Researchers can complete human-involved simulations, proof-of-concept studies, rapid prototyping, and concept validation and maturation to improve operational performance across all NextGen technologies. This facility complements and connects with the other laboratories at the Technical Center, the Florida NextGen Test Bed, and laboratories located at non-FAA facilities.
In 2012, the FAA designated the NASA/FAA North Texas Research Station as a NextGen test facility. It is located near several air traffic control facilities, airports, and airline operations centers in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The facility can access a variety of NAS data that enhance the evaluation of advanced technologies for NextGen and simulate air transportation operations. The laboratory, managed by NASA Ames Research Center Aviation Systems Division, operates in all phases of NextGen research, from early concept development to field evaluations of prototype systems. This facility has transitioned advanced NextGen concepts and technologies that were later provided to the FAA through technology transfers.
Through the FAA Air Transportation Centers of Excellence (COE), the FAA works with schools and their industry affiliates to advance aviation technologies. This cooperation is critical for training the next generation of aviation scientists and professionals. Some of the 13 focus areas are UAS, commercial space transportation, alternative jet fuels, and mitigation of aircraft noise and aviation emissions. MITRE's Center for Advanced Aviation System Development, a federally funded research and development center, also continues to support FAA research in NextGen decision support systems and TBO concepts.
Modernization of the U.S. air transportation system is a significant and critical undertaking. NextGen is a complex, large-scale system of systems, policies, and procedures deployed over more than two decades. To the casual observer, its development and implementation may be difficult to follow. With complexity comes challenges of technologies, typically in various stages of lifecycle management, from research and development to technical refreshes. To better understand the relationships of NextGen programs, the FAA uses planning reports to map the evolution from the legacy NAS to NextGen.
To manage NextGen with short-term funding horizons and ensure affordability, the FAA rolled out improvements in smaller increments with more program segments. The FAA defined four 5-year segments to assist in planning NextGen investments. We have scheduled the initial implementation of all major planned systems by 2025, but not the full integration necessary to provide the complete set of anticipated NextGen benefits. Beyond 2025, the FAA expects to accrue benefits through enterprise-level advanced applications, additional aircraft equipage, and full adoption of TBO.
NAS Enterprise Architecture
To identify how to transform the NAS, the FAA built the NAS Enterprise Architecture, which describes the evolution of air traffic control through our implementation of infrastructure, technologies, and new services. The NAS Enterprise Architecture documents current and future mission-critical and mission-support systems and includes roadmaps to help identify, track, and mature concepts, systems, and services that will further advance the NAS.
The NAS Enterprise Architecture helps us transform the NAS by clearly communicating system responsibilities while enhancing NAS operations. This architecture eases how we consolidate functions and systems while continuing to satisfy the aviation community's changing needs.
NAS Segment Implementation Plan (NSIP)
The FAA uses the NextGen Segment Implementation Plan (NSIP), which covers four 5-year segments from 2010 to 2030, as its blueprint for developing, integrating, and implementing NextGen capabilities. We organize operational improvements in 11 portfolios in the NSIP to group-related initiatives for assessing, developing, and implementing new capabilities.
The improvements are divided into capabilities deployed by increments as the technology or process becomes operational, which immediately benefits the aviation community in many cases. When the capabilities are in place, the operational improvement becomes a current operation.
Each portfolio has a detailed work plan. The years and timelines in the tables are only for planning and are based on the 2020 NSIP. We have not accounted for how the COVID-19 public health emergency has impacted the milestones.
The benefits of new capabilities must align with the safe operation of the NAS. Thus, new capabilities are implemented only after thorough safety testing. The FAA conducts NextGen-unique safety risk management for research and development, prototyping, testing and evaluation, and flight trials and demonstrations. We incorporate risk-based decision-making to support agency-wide safety initiatives. Along with resources, such as the Hazard Identification, Risk Management, and Tracking Tool; the Aviation System Information Analysis and Sharing; and the System Safety Management Transformation, program teams can access centralized data to provide a holistic perspective on system risks. The NextGen Safety Management System emphasizes safety management as a fundamental business process that we must place with the same high priority as other important organizational functions.