Currently the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is engaged in evolving the National Airspace System (NAS) to fulfill the vision of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). To complete this objective for a more efficient air traffic system, the current NAS must undergo a transformation to include new operational capabilities. However, the speed of developing and deploying such transformational systems and capabilities has been the largest limiting factor, reducing the FAA’s probability of successfully completing this evolution to NextGen. As recommended in the FAA’s Systems Engineering Handbook, NextGen programs adhere to the waterfall model when employing systems engineering methodologies. This linear systems engineering practice ensures the maturity of the initial completed system; however, it also may impede the program’s ability to deliver NextGen objectives in a more rapid manner. Given the quick pace of today’s technological advancements, there is a strong incentive for the FAA to transform their current systems engineering process into one that more rapidly delivers operational functionality to the aviation community.
New software engineering practices that incorporate agile development have emerged and successfully been adopted in small scale projects within the commercial sector. Agile software engineering methods place the emphasis on customer engagement and require the ability to adapt to evolving operational needs. Other sections within the public sector, including the Department of Defense, have incorporated agile principles into their acquisition, systems engineering, and software development processes. While agile software development processes foster a more responsive environment to changing conditions and priorities, another agile method focuses on designing an agile system. This idea builds upon creating a flexible and resilient system that is adaptable to changes made after initial development and deployment.
This paper will evaluate the systems engineering and software development practices that the FAA employs today and will explore the integration of agile principles, such as Agile Manifesto, with the FAA’s traditional waterfall approach to further NAS evolution. Given the growth in air traffic demand and safety critical definition of certain NextGen systems, this paper acknowledges that an agile waterfall system development process may not always be appropriate for a particular program. In such cases, engineering an agile system within a traditional waterfall methodology may be beneficial, as flexibility is embedded into the system design. This paper will propose two complementary agile frameworks: 1) an integrated agile system engineering waterfall process and 2) an approach for engineering agile systems.
Proposing an agile framework that may change standard operating procedures within the FAA must include incentives from the FAA program manager’s/acquisition management process perspective. These incentives may be in the form of actionable items that are most relevant to the customer’s needs, including airlines, aircraft and avionics manufacturers, business jet owners, and policy decision makers. To evaluate the potential benefits gained from employing an agile systems engineering methodology, this paper will also present a comparative analysis of the identified two agile frameworks through a POET (Political, Operational, Economical, and Technical) Analysis, which will identify key stakeholders and their respective external influential factors.