Air Safety Link
ALPA Helps Shape NAS Modernization Blueprint
By Jan W. Steenblik, Technical Editor
Air Line Pilot, February 2003, p. 5
In April 2001, then FAA Administrator Jane Garvey proposed a 10-year National Airspace System (NAS) modernization plan to revamp the U.S. ATC and air navigation system and facilities and equipment, including airports. Called the NAS Operational Evolution Plan (OEP), "A Foundation for Capacity Enhancement," the 10-year blueprint grouped capacity-demand problems into four areas—arrival/departure rate, airport weather conditions, enroute congestion, and enroute severe weather.
As ALPA’s president, Capt. Duane Woerth, testified on May 3, 2001, before the House Subcommittee on Transportation Appropriations, "This plan must become a living document that prescribes where the modernization work is headed, as well as serve as a means to evaluate how it is progressing."
It has indeed become so. As the FAA’s public OEP website, www. nas-architecture.faa.gov/oep/, acknowledges, "Modernizing the NAS is continuous, evolutionary, and multifaceted. The OEP is a ‘living’ document that matures over time. The OEP contains only capacity and efficiency-related programs that can be accomplished in a 10-year time frame and with each version the time frame rolls forward one year."
The latest evolution of the OEP, Version 5.0, was released early in January; the FAA website, which is easy to navigate, contains a "Report Card" on the progress of the comprehensive plan.
ALPA continues to participate in many ways to shape this all-important effort. RTCA, formerly the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics, is responsible for over-seeing administration of the OEP and is the forum through which ALPA and other interested parties are fulfilling that daunting task.
RTCA is a government/industry group that serves as an advisory group for the FAA and sets standards for aeronautical communications and navigation systems. ALPA has been active in RTCA for more than 35 years.
ALPA was involved, through RTCA, in the first industry review of OEP (held August–November 2002). "We and the rest of the aviation industry were very unified in ensuring that the push for capacity does not compromise safety," reports Mark Cato, the ALPA staff engineer who supports the more than 60 line pilot safety representatives who are participating in the process as volunteers serving on ALPA’s NAS Modernization Project Team. "We recommended improvements in a number of areas—setting realistic timelines and decision points, assessing key risks, and addressing types of issues important to ALPA (such as, procedures development and training)."
For example, under the Arrival/Departure Rate quadrant, you’ll find land-and-hold-short operations (LAHSO). OEP Version 4.0, released in December 2001, said, under the heading of "Ops Change Description" for LAHSO, "LAHSO procedures will improve throughput at airports with intersecting runways. Immediate relief can be provided where dependent operations can be conducted, while analysis of independent procedures continues.
"LAHSO will be used more widely as more pilots are trained and as compatible procedures are developed for rejected landings and as eligibility criteria are expanded. The expansion will include dependent and independent operations."
And in the "Background" part of the LAHSO section, the last line says, "…data supports [sic] a dependent separation procedure that is both safe and offers increased efficiency."
The current version of the OEP reads, in the same section, "Intersecting runway procedures (beyond current LAHSO definitions) may improve throughput at specific airports (there are 18 airports and a total of 34 configurations that conducted LAHSO prior to 1998 that do not currently use LAHSO).
"The scope of this activity is not to change current LAHSO procedures or operations [emphasis added], but to explore the safety and other operational issues with further application of procedures in crossing runway operations that are not covered or used in current FAA operations."
The fact that the OEP has backed off from trying to push more use of LAHSO is a direct result of ALPA’s vigorous participation in the OEP process through RTCA.
Last month, ALPA began working with other aviation industry representatives and the FAA to develop comments on OEP draft Version 6.0, which is scheduled for final release in December 2003. One of the main foci of their efforts will be to increase the level of detail written into the OEP. Some airspace users have complained that they couldn’t make informed decisions about buying new equipment because earlier versions of the OEP did not include enough detail about future technical requirements.
Check out the FAA’s public OEP website, and look for further updates on ALPA’s activities regarding NAS modernization on the Association’s website, www.alpa.org, in FastRead (the Association’s e-mail newsletter), and in Air Line Pilot.