"Making It Happen With NextGen"
J. Randolph Babbitt, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Washington, D.C.
April 27, 2011

10th Annual Aviation Summit


Good morning everyone. Thank you, Ed (Bolen) for that kind introduction. I’m glad to be here today at this summit as we talk about the future of aviation.

When John M. Richardson Jr. – a professor at American University – wrote about the future, he popularized this phrase:

“When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened.”

Right here we have the group that makes it happen.

Businesses and entrepreneurs are America’s economic engine. They produce the new materials, the new avionics and the new capabilities that move our industry forward.

The FAA is constantly working to improve safety. That is our number one priority.

We also recognize that there is an incredible amount of innovation in the marketplace that we believe will lead to greater safety and efficiency. We want to encourage that. We want refine the way we do business so we certify new aircraft and new equipment as expeditiously as possible, consistent with our safety mandate. We don't want to be the choke-point in the assembly line.

The FAA is in the midst of the complete transformation of our national air space system – we are transitioning into the Next Generation step by step. 

We are moving towards a system in which air travel will be more precise, safer, more efficient and more environmentally-friendly.

And so is the rest of the world.

We are working with our partners around the globe to create uniform NextGen standards. The goal is a seamless transition between airspace controlled by different countries. 

When people hear NextGen, they may think of the far-off future. But NextGen is happening now.

The transition from ground-based radar to space-based satellite navigation is under way. And many companies have already done the math and seen the business case for equipping for NextGen.  These companies are seeing fuel savings, which is particularly valuable when jet fuel is priced at the equivalent of $140 per barrel. I want to share a few examples of where NextGen is adding real dollars to the bottom line.

Southwest Airlines started using GPS-based arrival procedures at a dozen airports in January. They estimate they’ll save $60 million a year in fuel once they use these procedures system-wide. And we will all benefit from fewer emissions and less delays.   

Alaska Airlines is joining the FAA, the Port of Seattle and Boeing to further develop GPS-based procedures at Seattle Tacoma International Airport. That is part of our “Greener Skies over Seattle” initiative. That project should save literally millions of gallons of fuel annually, cut noise and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

We estimate that airlines using GPS-based arrival procedures at SeaTac will save a total of about $6.8 million per year at today’s fuel prices. And that number is only going to get larger as more airlines equip. With the “Greener Skies over Seattle” initiative, aircraft will emit less carbon dioxide – about 22,400 metric tons less per year. Let me put it to you this way, that’s like taking 4,100 cars off the streets of the Seattle region. And that’s just by using procedural changes.

And in Atlanta, Delta Airlines reports saving 60 gallons of fuel per flight by using more efficient descent procedures we’ve designed. Aircraft descend continually to the runway with engines idle, rather than descending in a stair-step fashion, using the engines and burning fuel to power up at each level-off point.

We want to see this safety and efficiency system-wide. We’re working to design more GPS-based procedures and fuel-saving optimized descents at more airports.

We’re also installing hundreds of ground transceiver stations across the country that are going to allow air traffic controllers to use GPS to track aircraft very precisely. They will use Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast.

This kind of tracking has already opened up air travel in the Gulf of Mexico where there is no radar coverage. We now have new levels of safety and precision. Helicopters in the Gulf are saving five to 10 minutes a flight and 100 pounds of fuel each flight.

And the FAA is partnering with JetBlue to equip some of its aircraft with ADS-B, which will allow some of the company’s A320s to fly more direct routes – not unlike HOV lanes – over the water. JetBlue will now be able to take advantage of new NextGen routes from Boston and New York down to Florida and into the Caribbean that bypass the congestion.

This is a trial period during which JetBlue will share flight data with us to see how and where they are saving time, distance and fuel. It will likely lead JetBlue to equip the balance of their fleet—and meanwhile provide concrete data that we believe will inspire other carriers to equip their fleets as well.

We value these public-private partnerships that demonstrate the benefits of NextGen to everyone.

Civil aviation accounts for more than 11.5 million jobs and $396 billion in wages. These are good jobs that Americans have the skills to achieve and are proud to perform.

We are pleased that both the House and the Senate have passed reauthorization bills for the FAA. It is an important step forward for an agency that has had 18 short-term extensions over the last three and a half years. It’s very difficult to run an agency when you’re budgeting for weeks, not years.

We need the restoration of predictable long-term funding for aviation programs. This is critical to the safety of the traveling public. It will improve our transportation infrastructure, generate new jobs and spur economic growth.

Now, the authorized funding levels in the House bill are well below what the President proposed in his budget. I am concerned however that funding at these levels would degrade the safe and efficient movement of air traffic today and in the future. 

We are in a tight budget environment and that means we will prioritize even more as we go forward. We will carefully choose and deliver the technologies and programs that will most help us improve safety and efficiency.

We already run a more efficient FAA today and we’ll be more efficient tomorrow. We’ve saved hundreds of millions of dollars in our acquisition costs in recent years by strictly reviewing and restructuring projects when needed. We will continue to be careful stewards of the tax dollars we receive.

At a certain point, though, a lack of funding will have a very dramatic cost impact on us. It will cost us more not to implement some programs than to move forward with modernization.

Delaying infrastructure investments means that the long term cost to our nation – to our passengers and our environment – will far exceed the cost of going forward with the technology today.

We’re at a pivotal time in the history of aviation. Together we are creating the template for a new system.  I look forward to working with all of you so that we can continue to operate the largest and safest air transportation system in the world.

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