What You Need To Know About NextGen and SESAR

The U.S. airspace system is in the middle of its largest upgrade ever – a next generation air transportation overhaul that the FAA calls NextGen.

What is NextGen?


NextGen is an FAA program developed to reduce air traffic delays, improve air safety and increase efficiency. The program, developed in 2004, is the FAA’s answer for the nation’s expanding air traffic volume and the overall need for a more efficient airspace system.

NextGen is a series of projects that will transform the airspace system over many years.

The FAA claims that by the year 2020, the combined efforts of multiple new NextGen platforms will reduce delays by 38 percent, saving an estimated $24 billion.

NextGen programs like ADS-B, Performance-Based Navigation and Data Comm are expected to save time and fuel, decrease emissions and improve safety statistics.

NextGen Programs

Performance-Based Navigation: Performance-based navigation, or PBN, is a program that provides properly equipped aircraft (those with RNAV or RNP capabilities) access to more efficient operating procedures, such as WAAS/LPV approaches and optimized descent profiles. Since RNAV and RNP procedures are being used around the world, the FAA has collaborated with ICAO to provide PBN standards for global users.

ADS-B: Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast systems are already in use across the U.S., but the program in its entirety won’t be fulfilled until 2020 or beyond. ADS-B is the most precise satellite-based navigation system available, and users will be required to equip their aircraft with the corresponding technology by the year 2020 to take advantage of the benefits it provides, such as quicker descent profiles, lower landing minimums, etc.

Data Comm: Data Comm is a digital communication system that will allow controllers to communicate with pilots via written text messages on a computer in the cockpit. Data Comm will be used in conjunction with radio communication, providing pilots with another method of communication and reducing communication errors.

Why Should You Care?

While many NextGen programs are already being implemented in the U.S., there is also a global impact from NextGen. In addition to performance-based navigation techniques, the FAA is working with other countries to ensure that the NextGen programs will complement international airspace systems.

In Europe, the Single European Sky initiative is being developed by SESAR. The Single European Sky initiative, like NextGen, is an airspace transformation that seeks to standardize air traffic management in European countries and beyond. And like NextGen, SESAR is working to incorporate new technology, regulations and air traffic management techniques to make air travel in Europe more efficient.

As both SESAR and the FAA progress with each transformation, NextGen should harmonize well with the Single European Sky program, making global travel more efficient and safe in the future.

As a prospective flight student, you want to choose a flight school that is keeping up with NextGen programs and the new technology involved. (New technology like ADS-B, for example, is already being used by PEA students!) And all pilots need to become aware of these programs and how they will affect your future in aviation.

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