Date:  May 1, 2015




FAA Should 'Reset Expectations' for Next Generation Air Transportation System


WASHINGTON – The original vision for the Next Generation Air Transportation System is not what is being implemented today, and the Federal Aviation Administration should “reset expectations” for the program meant to modernize and transform the national airspace, says a new congressionally mandated report from the National Research Council.


NextGen, as the system is known, was designed to overhaul the U.S. air transportation system through procedural and technological improvements, including the use of newer technologies such as precision satellite navigation systems and a digital communications infrastructure, to increase capacity, reduce delays, and improve safety.  Instead, NextGen today is a set of incremental changes that primarily emphasizes replacing aging equipment and systems.  Although progress has provided some new capabilities and a foundation for further evolution, not all parts of the original vision will be achieved in the foreseeable future.  The report says that FAA should realign stakeholder expectations by qualifying the early vision in a way that clearly articulates the new realities.


To better manage the program’s evolution, NextGen must adopt a system architecture -- a conceptual model that describes the components and behaviors of a system -- that defines how its pieces fit together, allows for modeling and reasoning about possible futures, and supports risk management.  The current architecture focuses on documentation rather than supporting decisionmaking and is not an adequate foundation for managing changes in technology and operations, the report says. 


The report recommends that the FAA initiate, grow, and engage a capable community of systems architecture experts, including leaders and peers within and outside the agency.  It should use the architecture leadership community and an effective governance approach to provide high-level guidance that enables effective management and communication, provides flexibility to ensure accommodation of future needs, and communicates changing circumstances in order to align expectations.


NextGen planning did not fully integrate cybersecurity into safety activities nor did it explicitly anticipate the introduction of unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace.  FAA should incorporate cybersecurity at all levels of system architecture and design to mitigate risks, support resilience in the face of an attack or compromise, and allow for change to meet an evolving threat environment.  FAA should also incorporate measures to address integration of unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system, and apply lessons learned from this challenge as it develops an effective system architecture.


FAA should recognize and incorporate human factors into design, technical, engineering, and architectural discussions as early as possible, the report says.  Failing to include human factors at the outset can result in subsequent modifications of products and services, which delay their release and significantly increase cost.  FAA should ensure that a human factors specialist has sign-off authority within the NextGen approval process.


Many of the benefits of NextGen -- such as increased automatic communication between aircraft and reduced delays to passengers -- cannot be realized until its capabilities are deployed at sufficient scale.  This entails that carriers and aircraft owners equip their fleets with the requisite technology and incur training costs for both new equipment and new procedures.  Given the delay in implementing new procedures and technologies at major airports, airlines may not see benefits for some time, and it remains a challenge for FAA to incentivize the adoption of NextGen capabilities in the absence of clear benefits.  Preceding any further equipment mandate, FAA should provide an estimation of costs and benefits that include mature technical specifications about the equipment and a committed timeline for implementation, so that industry can invest as needed given expected returns.


The study was sponsored by the Federal Aviation Administration. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are private, independent nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter granted to NAS in 1863.  The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.  For more information, visit  A commitee roster follows.



Lauren Rugani, Media Relations Officer

Christina Anderson, Media Assistant

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail

Twitter: @NAS_news and @NASciences

RSS feed:




Pre-publication copies of A Review of the Next Generation Air Transportation System: Implications and Importance of System Architecture are available from the National Academies Press on the Internet at or by calling 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).



#       #       #



Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences

Computer Science and Telecommunications Board


Committee to Review the Enterprise Architecture, Software Development Approach, and Safety and Human Factor Design of the Next Generation Air Transportation System


David E. Liddle (chair)


U.S. Venture Partners

Menlo Park, Calif.


Steven M. Bellovin*

Percy K. and Vidal L.W. Hudson Professor of Computer Science

Department of Computer Science

Columbia University

New York City


John-Paul B. Clarke

Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering, and


Air Transportation Laboratory

Georgia Institute of Technology



George L. Donohue

Professor Emeritus of Systems Engineering and Operations Research

School of Information Technology and Engineering

George Mason University

Fairfax, Va.


John Hansman Jr.*

T. Wilson Professor

Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and


International Center for Air Transportation

Cambridge, Mass.


Mats P.E. Heimdahl

Professor and Director

Software Engineering Center

University of Minnesota



John Knight

Professor of Computer Science

Department of Computer Science

University of Virginia



Leon J. Osterweil


Department of Computer Science, and


Laboratory for Advanced Software Engineering Research

University of Massachusetts



Walker E. Royce

Independent Consultant, and

Former Chief Software Economist

IBM Software Group

Boxboro, Mass.


Gavriel Salvendy*

Chair Professor Emeritus and Former Head

Department of Industrial Engineering

Tsinghua Univeristy, Beijing, and P.R. of China, and

Professor Emeritus of Industrial Engineering

Purdue University

West Lafayette, Ind.


Thomas B. Sheridan*

Ford Professor of Engineering and Applied Psychology, Emeritus

Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Massachusetts Institute of Technology



Robert F. Sproull*

Retired Vice President and Director

Oracle Labs, and

Adjunct Professor of Computer Science

University of Massachusetts



James Sturges

Independent Consultant,

Former Director

Engineering Processes, and

Former Director

Mission Assurance

Lockheed Martin Corp.

Greer, S.C.


Elaine Weyuker*

Independent Consultant, and

Visiting Scholar

Center for Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science

Rutgers University

Metuchen, N.J.




Lynette I. Millett

Study Director



*Member, National Academy of Engineering