MIAMI — The meltdown last month of the air traffic control system in Chicago caused thousands of flights in and out of Chicago O’Hare and Chicago Midway to be cancelled, and ATC was snarled for almost a week. The Federal Aviation Administration announced on Oct. 13 that it had successfully restored full air traffic operations at the Chicago En Route Center in Aurora, Illinois.
And now the agency has announced that working with the aviation community, it has sent a plan to Congress to show how the agency and industry will work to accelerate the benefits of key NextGen initiatives in the next three years. Under the NextGen Priorities Joint Implementation Plan, the FAA and the aviation industry will share responsibility to meet specific milestones, locations, timelines and metrics for “high-priority, high-readiness” NextGen initiatives, including Multiple Runway Operations, Performance Based Navigation and Surface and Data Communications.
In a speech before the Aero Club of Washington, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta acknowledged the challenges in both maintaining the air traffic control system and also modernizing it at the same time in an extremely unforgiving budget environment. “Our national airspace system underpins an industry that adds $1.5 trillion to our economy. This system is really an ecosystem, where each part relies on the other to function well,” he said. “There can’t be a disconnect between industry and government or between sectors in the industry if we expect to be successful.”
The FAA and major players, including airlines, airports, aviation manufacturers and industry suppliers, are already preparing for for the next reauthorization bill after the current one expires on Sept. 15, 2015. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said it’s vital that “we think bigger than a traditional FAA reauthorization bill,” in remarks before the recent National Business Aviation Association conference.
It took legislators five year and a record 23 extensions to create the last $63.4 billion reauthorization bill, which President Barack Obama signed on Feb. 14, 2012. The measure included $11 billion to fund NextGen, and the industry has already indicated that more money will be needed in order for the FAA to meet its 2020 deadline to complete NextGen.