"The Secret to Success"
J. Randolph Babbitt, Washington, D.C.
June 10, 2009


Remarks as prepared for delivery

Good morning, and thank you, Ed [Bolen]. With the exception of my confirmation hearing, this is my first speech as FAA Administrator. I think you're all pretty clear about how I feel about RTCA — about the importance I place on their work and their guidance. I can think of no better place to start than to start right here. Ed, thanks for inviting me.

As far as making NextGen happen, I think everyone in this room already knows what it's going to take. The secret to launching NextGen is advice. From my time spent here with the task force, and my time spent chairing the MAC over at 800 Independence, I learned first hand that the secret to this thing is really no secret at all. The only way we're going to get rotation on this is by making sure the parties are at the table, making sure that their voices are heard. That's the way I intend to keep it. Decisions made in a vacuum will bring the system to its knees. We've seen that before, and I have no desire to see us learn that lesson again.

We need constructive input. The FAA should not try to address policies or governing principles in a vacuum if we intend to maximize effectiveness. Policies can promote enhanced benefits, but we've got to craft them appropriately. The NextGen Implementation Task Force has more than 350 people involved, and the working groups have 280. That shows me that you're willing to speak up, and from where I stand, that's what we need.

So far, the aviation community's response to the Task Force has been overwhelming. And I agree with Hank [Krakowski] and Peggy [Gilligan] that this is strong evidence of the entire community's commitment to work together with the FAA to develop consensus recommendations that will advance NextGen implementation. It is clear that a great deal of hard work and dedication are being applied by all. But that's just a watermark. We need to keep pushing.

I've been working in this system a long, long time, and I've seen the before and after. Right now, we are on the edge of the biggest step in the how we navigate — how we keep planes apart, how we space them — that the aviation world has ever known. NextGen is going to change how we do business. But we only get one shot at this. We have the technology, and we certainly have the need to upgrade. But we've got to make sure that we collaboratively design what we are building — all of us — the users, the manufacturers, the regulators.

That's why we need to demonstrate successes to build on before we can expect the stakeholders to make some pretty big investments themselves.

This is about confidence and credibility because the last thing anyone wants to do is invest in equipment that never gets plugged in — or when it does, it doesn't do what it's supposed to. We've had some starts and stops at the agency over the years, and I'm not going to spend time rehashing that. But I will say that Congress and our stakeholders are looking for a tangible return on their investment and I intend to see that they get it.

Near-term wins that rack up benefits for the operators are what we absolutely must have. Come December, we will begin to provide surveillance in the Gulf. In a about a year, we're going to have 340 of the ADS-B ground stations in place — nearly 50 percent of the total.

We must take advantage of what the operators already have invested. RNP and RNAV work. We know that. Look at Louisville. We're partnering with UPS to demonstrate advanced NextGen applications, like ADS-B, airline based en route merging and spacing, and RNAV standard terminal arrivals with an optimized profile descent. Just last month, we published an RNP approach into 13 Center at Midway. It will provide procedural separation of aircraft departing 22 Left from O'Hare. Let's ratchet that kind of success up. With the airlines — and the economy — still looking at a steep climb, the ROI is even more important.

Once credibility is established by delivering on commitments, industry will back mid- and long- term NextGen programs that require new equipage. That's how it supposed to work. I'm confident that we can get there from here. But the implementation will require joint commitments from the FAA and from the industry.

While I'm putting things out that, I've got to add this — NextGen is just flat out not moving fast enough. We must accelerate NextGen. I want more, and I want more faster. This administration has been unequivocal in its statements that the status quo just won't go. I couldn't agree more. I've been flying since my sixteenth birthday, and the pilots and the people around them in this mix are eager to have things that advance safety and efficiency. I count myself in that group.

I've got to close with a couple of thoughts. One, NextGen is a clear priority. And let me say for the record that I'm interested in delivery. I have absolutely no plans to get involved with the arguments about NextGen or NowGen or then or when Gen. I'm not one for labels. When you boil all this down, and all the liquid is gone, the task at hand remains the same. We've got to make the system more efficient, and we've got to make it safer while doing it. Let's face it. We don't have the time to argue about what to call it. What we know is that Congress and the taxpayer want something now. I think they're right to ask for it.

I also know that we must achieve labor stability. Those talks are under way. Hank and I talk frequently, and I'm optimistic. Before you run out of the room debating what does optimistic mean, I'm just saying that the talks are proceeding, both sides are at the table, and I think we'll reach an agreement. The best agreements are reached when everyone wants an agreement, and right now there is both that desire and a positive atmosphere.

But I will take a moment to talk about what I mean by labor stability. I'm not just talking about getting our biggest union squared away. I'm also talking about the other 7 unions we have. And I'm also talking about the 15,000 employees we have who aren't part of a union.

We need to restore confidence for the entire workforce. We need to make sure we have accountability and credibility across the board. I want to see all 45,000 move with confidence in their skills and pride in their work. I don't see that now. We've got to get that restored.

Lastly, a word about my number one priority. Safety. Colgan and Air France are reminders that we've got to be vigilant. The [call to action] we announced Monday is an indication that we've got to do more — and we will do more. I'm pulling together representatives from the major air carriers and their regional partners, industry groups and labor groups to devise actions and voluntary commitments. We're going to reinforce the fundamentals that contribute to the next level of safety.

If you want to know my philosophy on safety, it's this: end every sentence — every proposed change with "… and will this also make us safer?" The Federal Aviation Act of 1958 has a lot of wisdom in it and it empowered the FAA to oversee and regulate safety Of course, it's grown, and we've grown along with it. But it's helped push all of aviation to the safety records we've achieved each step of the way.

But as Administrator, my goal is to make sure that everything we do is going to drive us toward safety. Safety comes first. We can't do it any other way. If you start whittling away at the foundation of safety, you're going to end up with a house of cards that looks real nice, until the wind picks up. If your idea diminishes safety in any way, that's ballast, and there's no room for that in the cabin. For the record, that's a line in the sand for me, and that absolutely will not waver.

NextGen's going to make a world of difference. Less noise. Less pollutants. Less carbon. That's a green ticket. If you're looking for a challenge, I've alluded to it at each turn I've made this morning. I need you to weigh in and make sure we all get there at the same time. Collaboration is key. Weigh in and stay in.

With all of that said, thank you, and if you've got questions, fire away.