NextGen ATC Priorities: Next in Line? Or Best equipped?

A joint industry/government task force on NextGen implementation recently delivered its report, and at least one politician called it a "breakthrough." One key element at issue is whether air traffic control would shift from its legacy "first-come, first-served" protocol to one of "best-equipped, best served." General aviation leaders have spoken out on the complex issues involved. RTCA, a not-for-profit corporation, recently released its Mid-Term Implementation Task Force report on how to implement improvements over the next eight years. House Aviation subcommittee chairman Jerry Costello (D-Ill) called the report "a significant breakthrough for the NextGen effort." Costello then placed the ball directly in the FAA's court to address issues raised in the report. Among the most pertinent to GA, the report's points included discussion on how best to equip the fleet to take optimum advantage of NextGen technology. Some are concerned that aircraft operators who are unable to pay for upgrades could find themselves underserved by the new reality of air traffic control. Ed Bolen, president and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association, told the House subcommittee, "[NextGen is] not flipping a switch on something that is new. It's about making lots of little steps that collectively will be transformative. We want to have an opportunity to use all of the available technologies we have today to create as much system capacity and as much efficiency as possible." Like Bolen, AOPA President Craig Fuller told the subcommittee that upgraded FAA infrastructure must be in place to accommodate expensive cockpit upgrades. He told the subcommittee, "We cannot afford to equip aircraft if the proper tools are not in place to realize the benefits of our investments." Fuller also stressed the importance of a "building block" approach to NextGen that would take best advantage of currently available equipment while ensuring that incremental upgrades to air traffic control infrastructure remain compatible with equipment still in use.