The U.S. air transportation system is getting a 21st century makeover, and now might be a more exciting time than ever to consider a career in aviation.
“I think it’s an exciting time because aviation is changing,” said Pamela Whitley in an interview with Fast Forward. Whitley is the head of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) program. The mission of NextGen, she told Fast Forward, is to upgrade the entire U.S. air system to the latest in 21st century digital technology.
“We typically talk about aviation in terms of communications, navigation, surveillance, and automation,” Whitley said. “So in order to modernize the system, we have to upgrade our ability to do those four things.”
She explained that radar is being replaced with GPS technology that is similar to what can be found in today’s automobiles. This will enable pilots to see real-time data about the location of other planes in the air.
“It’s much like GPS technology that you use in your automobile or on your cellphone. We’re using not that exact technology, but technology that is upgraded to a safety level for aviation, which will allow us to determine where aircraft are in the system.”
She noted that many people have already witnessed some of the things that NextGen has made possible.
“There are companies today where you can get an app or go online and see where a particular flight is. You may have used some of those capabilities before. That information is available as a result of some of the digital infrastructure that we’re putting out under the modernization effort.”
The end goal, Whitley said, is to make the National Airspace System more efficient, safe, and sustainable for this and for future generations.
“I consider that to be an honor. It is part of a social responsibility to make sure we have an aviation infrastructure that is sufficient for the next generation. They can build on that … [which] will allow them to advance the system for years to come.”
But the aviation industry will need new recruits from today’s bright, tech-savvy generation to keep pushing these technological innovations even further, she said.
“The first challenge is sustaining a workforce. …[We need] to have new employees that we can bring on and really transfer that knowledge to them, so they can begin to own and develop the system into what it needs to be for the next generation.”
This means that today’s students will have a one-of-a-kind opportunity to be part of a revolution in the aviation industry.
“There are very few opportunities in your lifetime to change an industry. Aviation is changing from what was our original infrastructure to a digital infrastructure. Think about changing the aviation industry from analog to digital. That’s what we’re doing.”
She reminds students that the aviation industry needs innovators in all skilled areas—beyond just pilots.
“The pilots have the responsibility of flying the planes … [but] when you look at the industry as a whole, you can have a huge impact on the aviation industry and never know how to fly an airplane.”
Students who want to know more about NextGen, Whitley said, can visit the FAA website. They can also check out usajobs.gov to find out about the types of aviation professionals that are in demand today, and to get an idea of positions that will be available in the future.
“All of the government jobs are posted on the usajobs.gov website. That’s not just where you find FAA jobs, it’s where you find all government jobs,” she said.
Check out Ms. Whitley’s video, and make sure to keep following Fast Forward for the latest updates on what’s happening in the transportation industry!