Next Generation Air Transportation System:

Linking Test Facilities Can Help Leverage Resources and Improve Technology Transfer Efforts

GAO-12-187T: Published: Nov 7, 2011. Publicly Released: Nov 7, 2011.

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This testimony discusses the use of test facilities as a means of leveraging public, private, and academic resources to deliver technologies for the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). NextGen will affect nearly every aspect of air transportation and will transform the way in which the air transportation system operates today. It is a complex undertaking that requires new technologies--including new integrated ground and aircraft systems--as well as new procedures, processes, and supporting infrastructure. The result will be an air transportation system that relies on satellite-based surveillance and navigation, data communications, and improved collaborative decision making. Transforming the nation's air transportation system affects and involves the activities and missions of several federal agencies, though the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the lead implementer. In addition, NextGen was designed and planned to be developed in collaboration with aviation stakeholders--airlines and other airspace users, air traffic controllers, and avionics, aircraft, and automation systems manufacturers--in order to facilitate coordinated research activities, transfer technologies from FAA and partner agencies to the private sector, and take advantage of research and technology developed by the private sector that could meet NextGen needs, as appropriate. Three NextGen test facilities, collectively referred to as the NextGen Test Bed, are designed to foster the research and development of NextGen-related technologies and to evaluate integrated technologies and procedures for nationwide NextGen deployment. These test facilities provide access to the systems currently used in the national air space (NAS) and house various types of hardware, simulators, and other equipment to allow for demonstrations of new technologies. They also provide opportunities for stakeholders--public and private--to collaborate with FAA, academia, and each other. This statement today discusses (1) the role of the NextGen test facilities in the development of NextGen technologies and how private industry and partner agencies participate in projects at the NextGen test facilities, and (2) our previous findings on NextGen technology transfer and FAA's efforts to improve the transfer and implementation of NextGen-related technologies. This statement is based on our prior NextGen-related reports and testimonies, updated with information we gathered from FAA and test facility officials in October 2011. The GAO reports cited in this statement contain more detailed explanations of the methods used to conduct our work, which we performed in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.

The role of the NextGen Test Bed is to demonstrate the benefits of NextGen initiatives and to do so early in the technology development process. While sharing a common purpose, each of the three facilities that collectively make up the NextGen Test Bed offers different testing capabilities and brings together different participants from different communities. Across the test facilities private and public sector stakeholders contribute personnel, equipment, and funding to develop and integrate technologies. Linking the test facilities to leverage the benefits of each is part of the NextGen Test Bed concept and officials from the test facilities indicated they have made some progress in doing so. In prior work on technology transfer activities, we found that the success of test facilities as a means to leverage private sector resources depends in large part on the extent to which the private sector perceives benefits to its participation. Similarly, collaboration among the NextGen partner agencies depends in part on their seeing outcomes that further their mission and on identifying a common purpose. FAA has taken a number of actions to improve its ability to implement new technologies and increase partner agencies' and private sector participants' involvement in seeing the development of selected technologies through to successful implementation--including restructuring the organization responsible for implementing NextGen and linking the test facilities and improving their capabilities.

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