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The FAA's Next Generation National Airspace System Plan

by John M. White |

The Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) is the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) plan to modernize the National Airspace System (NAS) through 2025. Through NextGen, the FAA is addressing the impact of air traffic growth by increasing NAS capacity and efficiency while simultaneously improving safety, environmental impacts, and user access to the NAS. The FAA is implementing new routes and procedures that leverage emerging aircraft navigation capabilities, including Performance-Based Navigation (PBN), which is helping FAA to achieve its NextGen goals. What is Performance-Based Navigation? PBN is a framework for defining navigation performance requirements (embodied in “navigation specifications”) that can be applied to an air traffic route, instrument procedure, or defined airspace. PBN includes both Area Navigation (RNAV) and Required Navigation Performance (RNP) specifications. PBN provides a basis for the design and implementation of automated flight paths as well as for airspace design and obstacle clearance. Once the required performance level is established, the aircraft’s own capability determines whether it can safely achieve the specified performance and qualify for the operation. As NextGen evolves, commitments such as those detailed in the Roadmap for Performance-Based Navigation will be incorporated into the NextGen Implementation Plan. These advances in aircraft capabilities and air traffic system operations may contribute to reduced separation and support the transition from rules-based operations to performance-based operations, including RNAV and RNP. What Is RNAV? Area Navigation (RNAV) enables aircraft to fly on any desired flight path within the coverage of ground- or spaced-based navigation aids, within the limits of the capability of the self-contained systems, or a combination of both capabilities. As such, RNAV aircraft have better access and flexibility for point-to-point operations. What Is RNP? Required Navigation Performance (RNP) is RNAV with the addition of an onboard performance monitoring and alerting capability. A defining characteristic of RNP operations is the ability of the aircraft navigation system to monitor the navigation performance it achieves and inform the crew if the requirement is not met during an operation. This onboard monitoring and alerting capability enhances the pilot’s situation awareness and can enable reduced obstacle clearance or closer route spacing without intervention by air traffic control. Certain RNP operations require advanced features of the onboard navigation function and approved training and crew procedures. These operations must receive approvals that are characterized as Special Aircraft and Aircrew Authorization Required (SAAAR), similar to approvals required for operations to conduct Instrument Landing System Category II and III approaches. Benefits RNAV and RNP specifications facilitate more efficient design of airspace and procedures which collectively result in improved safety, access, capacity, predictability, operational efficiency, and environmental effects. Specifically, improved access and flexibility for point-to-point operations help enhance reliability and reduce delays by defining more precise terminal area procedures. They also provide fuel and emissions savings. Your government dollars at work, my friends.  This system is expected to cost over $ 22 Billion, but some analysts feel the number is way to low. Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch! JetAviator7

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