In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) serves as the regulatory agency mainly in charge of overseeing safety within the National Airspace System (NAS). Over the past decades, the FAA began to look for ways to continue to improve on safety in the NAS given the considerable public interest towards Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). So in part of the Vision 100- Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act of 2003, the FAA along with the Department of Transportation announced the plan for project NextGen (Government Publishing Office, 2003). Project NextGen (short for Next Generation Air Transportation System) is a designed collaborative movement to modernize the next generation of aviation into a smarter, satellite-based, digitally advanced, and evolved procedural system within the next 25 years. The mission of project NextGen is to make air travel and air operation more convenient, safer, predictable, and environmentally friendly (U.S. Department of Transportation, 2003).
What are the goals of NextGen, and how does it seek to improve future aviation operations in the NAS?
To improve on the future of aviation operations in the NAS, project NextGen outlined several goals which is divided into short-term (2004-2012), mid-term (2012-2020) and long-term (2020-2030 and beyond) visions that will modernize the next generation of aviation. These goals includes; creating a better travel experience for passengers and operators, maximize fuel savings for aircraft operators, reducing overall emissions by incorporating more direct and efficient routes and approaches, reducing separation minimums, reducing congestions, upgrading communications across the airspace system and its users, standardize access to overall aviation weather information, and improvements to onboard and flight deck technology.
How does UAS fit into this vision for the future?
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimated that there will be about 30,000 private and public Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) patrolling the skies by the year 2030. Furthermore, agency officials also estimated that over 7500 small commercial UAS will be operating in the U.S National Airspace System (NAS) by 2018 (Whittle, 2013). As part of the safer sky initiatives, the FAA project NextGen initiative will aim to improve autonomous sensor navigation by replacing radars with a satellite-based system by the year 2020. This will greatly benefit the integration of civil UAS into NAS by establishing a structured foundation that will provide guidelines and procedures to safely operate.
The FAA is hoping that this new improvement of the project NextGen initiative will improve navigation abilities, especially for the upcoming UAS industry. Currently, one of the issues to UAS integration is their inability to properly execute the sense and avoid requirements established by the FAA for air navigation. The purpose of the sense and avoid procedure is to enable self-separation from aircrafts, object, terrain and avoid collisions with any of them (Marshall, Barnhart, & Hottman, 2011). Project NextGen will introduce the implementation of the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast System (ADS-B) (which is a more accurate and reliable system than the currently in use RADAR system). The ADS-B system will broadcast aircraft information such as speed, location, and route to air traffic controllers and other participating aircraft through the use of satellite radio signals and ground stations (Houston, 2017).
Government Publishing Office. (December 2003) VISION 100—CENTURY OF AVIATION REAUTHORIZATION ACT. PUBLIC LAW 108–176 (Retrieved from https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-108publ176/pdf/PLAW-108publ176.pdf
Houston, S. (2017, June 25). Nextgen in a Nutshell. THE BALANCE, 12(3). Retrieved from: https://www.thebalance.com/nextgen-in-a-nutshell-282561
Marshall, D. M., Barnhart, R. K., & Hottman, S. B. (Eds.). (2011). Introduction to Unmanned Aircraft Systems. Baton Rouge, US: CRC Press. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com.ezproxy.libproxy.db.erau.edu
U.S. Department of Transportation (2003). The Next Generation Air Transportation System (nextgen). Retrieved from https://www.transportation.gov/mission/sustainability/next-generation-air-transportation-system-nextgen