FedEx and NextGen avionics: an interview with FedEx’s senior advisor for Global Air Traffic Operations

MEMPHIS, Tenn., 6 May 2010. The current global aerospace market is in a flux, as the economic downturn has forced airlines and airframers to be more cautious with their expenditures.  Nevertheless the march of technology presses onward. Avionics technology development and requirements for the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA's) Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) are moving forward.

May 6th, 2010
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Posted by John McHale

MEMPHIS, Tenn., 6 May 2010. The current global aerospace market is in a flux, as the economic downturn has forced airlines and airframers to be more cautious with their expenditures. Nevertheless the march of technology presses onward. Avionics development and requirements for the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA's) Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) are moving forward.

NextGen will significantly increase the capacity, safety, efficiency, and security of air transportation in the U.S. Full deployment of the system is still a few years away, but aircraft operators such as FedEx are planning for installation of new avionics systems that enable NextGen. FedEx's approach to NextGen is discussed below in the interview with Steve Vail, senior advisor for FedEx Global Air Traffic Operations in Memphis, Tenn.

The Fedex approach to NextGen in the mid-term will be discussed in Vail's keynote address at the Avionics USA conference on June 3, 2010 at the San DiegoConvention Center in San Diego. To register for the event click here.

Q: What are the main benefits will the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Next Generation air transportation system (NextGen) bring to the table for FedEx and for the industry as a whole?

A: Our number one goal and purpose is to serve our customers. This requires that we achieve our business plan and schedule conformance. To do this we must achieve the incentives that NextGen promises of increased capacity, reduced delays, and operations more efficiently and environmentally friendly.

Q: What is FedEx doing now in the mid-term to implement next-generation ATM technology into their avionics suites?

A: The implementation of entire NextGen fleet of technology for every major airline will require a tremendous amount of money. We have established an internal group from all segments of the operation to review from all viewpoints, what should we do first and when should we do it. Economic times require that an airline receive immediate benefit from implementation.

Q: What are the main challenges in implementing Next-Gen technology?

A: Process and consensus -- there are no magic NextGen future automation systems that can just wave a magic wand and create the capacity and delay reduction that we will need in the future. NextGen enhancements will require detailed process and conops so that they may integrate in the operational system. The transition will take many years.We will need industry consensus of what and how this implementation will be conducted among the various user classes.

Q: What is FedEx's approach to required navigation performance and performance-based operations as a whole?

A: Performance-based navigation (PBN) procedures will produce many benefits, especially in fuel conservation and reduced emissions. Our approach is two pronged.First we have an internal group that looks at locations where PBN can be readily implemented and would enhance the FedEx operation (Optimized Profile Descents, FMS visual procedures, etc.) Secondly, we participate in many industry activities (PARC, CNS Task-Force, RTCA Airspace Working Groups, etc.) to develop procedures and airspace alignments that would make PBN possible.

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