The U.S. Congress, in Vision 100, created the FAA's Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO), a coordinating group between various federal agencies and industry. Its mission: To facilitate the modernization of the U.S. air traffic control system, an issue that is at the center of the funding debate currently going on in Washington. AIRPORT BUSINESS recently conducted a phone interview with Karl Grundmann, director of communications and outreach for JPDO, on the status of the modernization program, particularly in light of recent criticisms brought during the annual conference held by the American Association of Airport Executives in San Diego in late April. Here is an edited transcript of that interview.
Grundmann is actually on loan from NASA as the director of communications for JPDO. His resume includes various assignments for the U.S. Navy, FAA, and the Department of Defense as an air traffic controller/specialist. Besides being an active controller for the Federal Aviation Administration, Grundmann has actively represented the National Air Traffic Controllers Association in elected and appointed positions. At NASA, he has also worked in the airspace systems program for the Ames Research Center.
AIRPORT BUSINESS: Overall, where would you estimate we are at with the modernization of ATC?
Grundmann: We are not in the business of modernization; we are in the business of transformation - a very distinct difference. Our charge from the Congress is to transform the air transportation system in 25 years. That's what we're about. Regarding the status there, on the planning effort, we will have some of the baseline products that we've been working on for the past year and a half completed by end of this summer.
We already have one, an operational improvement roadmap, which is a baseline document. That is available and is out in public. By the end of summer, we will have an operations concept; first it will go from block to block - a euphemism which means from takeoff to landing. By the end of the summer to early next year, we should have a curb to curb, which is airport curb to airport curb, the ops concept of what it will look like in 2025. We'll also have what we call enterprise architecture; I'm not real up on that aspect.
AB: Is there a central resource for information on your progress?
Grundmann: It's www.jpdo.aero.
AB: In March, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published an updated analysis of the progress of the JPDO program. Any reaction?
Grundmann: We were in and out of it; we dealt with it. I thought that, generally, it was pretty accurate. There are some things that we're still in discussion with them about.
AB: Two things that the GAO was critical of were participation of the air traffic controllers and industry in the process. Any comments?
Grundmann: The controller participation issue is beyond our control. We had a controller from NATCA participating with us full time in this office for almost a year. When the contract issues came to fruition, by mutual consent they withdrew him from our office. We are waiting for that issue to be resolved and looking forward to having their full participation again.
As to industry participation, I have to disagree with that assertion. The NGATS [Next Generation Air Traffic System] Institute had two primary functions when it was established. One was to populate our integrated product teams with industry participants. To date, they've gotten over 200 industry subject matter experts onto our integrated product teams from over 70 different companies. It by no means is the entire industry, but it's a pretty good chunk. They (industry) are also going to be doing actual work for us at our request, funded by the JPDO - things that industry does better than government.
By the way, we've never done this before - including the industry. So we're all working our way through it. We also have relationships with less than traditional industry; for example, travel and tourism; just-in-time shippers and manufacturers; the general public.
AB: At the recent AAAE convention in San Diego, a panel on JPDO suggested that a key challenge was that the aviation industry, including FAA, was adverse to real change, which is part of the problem. Do you agree?
Grundmann: It's a difficult challenge; this is not just about technology. This is real cultural change. FAA has to change; NASA has to change; the industry has to change.
Let's be honest, the industry fights as much amongst itself as it does with FAA. Look at ATA [Air Transport Association] and AOPA [Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association]; they represent widely diverse constituencies and they have different perspectives. Our challenge is to find common ground.
AB: What do you see as the major challenges for the transformation?
Grundmann: It's maintaining the momentum that we have right now. We have a lot of momentum with Congress and in the industry; we need to widen that advocacy base.
AB: Are the latest trend, very light jets (VLJs) part of your discussion?
Grundmann: Very light jets are a big part of what we're talking about, only because they're an example of an emerging business model, or entrepreneurial endeavor, that needs to be accommodated by the system.
Notice I didn't say the air traffic control system. We're looking at it from the air transportation system-wide system - airports, air traffic control, airspace. VLJs are going to bring a whole new dimension, in my opinion. With companies like DayJet and Pogo waiting in the wings for the certification of the Eclipse and Adams aircraft, we may be looking at a perfect storm in the aviation industry.