FAA enplanements forecast for US critically linked to Next Gen Project

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post via Ashwin Jadhav

The FAA’s Next Gen project, which involves revamping of the nation’s air traffic system to accommodate the forecasted traffic growth, maintain high standards of safety and increase operational efficiency, uses the above mentioned forecasts as a baseline. The changes in the forecasts determine the urgency of the implementation phases for Next Gen, funding required and further proposals.

The FAA announced a few days back the 2012 forecast for the next two decades. The forecast indicates that U.S. airlines will carry 1 billion passengers by 2024 at an average traffic growth rate of 3.8% per year. Moreover, it will take at least four more years for the airlines to reach the 2007 traffic levels. The numbers indicate a significant demand drop in terms of Next Gen implementation.

Don’t get me wrong, certain aspects of the air traffic management system need modifications, but the demand for the complete overhaul of the system is losing its ground. The Next Gen project, however, is still not being modified based on the needs of the National Airspace System. For example, if more emphasis was placed on Continuous Descent Approaches and other Performance Based Navigation improvements rather than premature airport modernizations, airlines would save millions of gallons of fuel. Subsequently, the reduced CO2 emissions would have significant environmental benefits, which would align well with the current Global Aviation Targets. After the four-year reauthorization bill passed by Congress last month, the FAA still seeks to expedite the Next Gen implementation.

This exposes the two major concerns in Next Gen which were previously highlighted. Firstly, the project is being continued without any long-term funding and secondly, the gained funding is not being utilized to address the more problematic areas in the National Airspace System. The changing FAA forecast is not having any impact on the Next Gen Implementation Plan , which appears questionable considering the near-term stagnation in passengers and traffic.

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