"Investing for Success"
J. Randolph Babbitt, Atlanta, GA
May 5, 2011

Aero Club of Metro Atlanta

Good afternoon, and thank you, Doug Murphy. I am delighted to be here in Atlanta with the Aero Club of Metro Atlanta – recognized as one of the largest and most active Aero Clubs in the country. This club does a great service by providing a lively and inclusive forum for everyone to discuss those issues, promote aviation, and recognize its importance to the Atlanta metro area and to the State of Georgia.

It would be hard to overstate the importance of aviation to our nation’s economy. Just look at Georgia. One of the major employers is Delta Airlines, with over 27,000 employees. Around 7,000 Georgians work for Lockheed Martin, and another 6,000 check in at Gulfstream every day. And I know I don’t have to tell you about the economic benefit of having the world’s busiest airport in your city. With over 58,000 employees, Hartsfield-Jackson is this state’s largest employer. Its direct – never mind indirect – economic impact to the metropolitan Atlanta area is well over $32 billion dollars. And those numbers grow every year.

The growth of this country’s aviation sector is one of the reasons that we at the FAA are putting so much work, so much energy and so much of our focus, into NextGen – the Next Generation Air Transportation System. As you know, NextGen is the transformation from ground-based navigation and radar to satellite-based navigation and surveillance. We are moving towards a system where air traffic controllers will have more automated tools to help make their decisions and handle more traffic safely.

This evolution is vital to meeting demand, and to avoiding gridlock at airports like Hartsfield-Jackson – a place that averages 240,000 passengers and 2,700 arrivals and departures every day.

Over the last decade, the city of Atlanta has shown tremendous leadership and foresight in preparing this airport to meet future demand. In 2006, Atlanta commissioned a new 9,000 foot runway that increased capacity by 30 percent. In 2007, Atlanta opened an end-around taxiway that eliminated more than 600 runway crossings per day. To accommodate long-haul international flights, the airport has a 500-foot runway extension and a new international terminal under construction. Still looking ahead, the city is finishing a study on future capacity strategies.

Planning for increased demand is the reason for the answer I give when people ask whether we can really afford the kind of investment NextGen requires during these tough budget times. My answer is that we can’t afford not to invest in this technology. I frame the debate in terms of cost “savings” versus cost impact. Delaying investment in infrastructure means that the long term cost to our nation – to passengers, airlines, communities, and businesses – will far exceed the cost of going forward today.

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 planning programs by the week, rather than over the course of years. So we need the restoration of sufficient and predictable long-term funding levels for aviation programs. This is critical to safety. It will also 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 that funding at these levels would degrade the safe and efficient movement of air traffic today and in the future.

A tight budget environment 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. 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 these types of programs than to move forward with modernization like NextGen. NextGen means air travel will be safer, more efficient and more environmentally-friendly.

Safety is our number one priority and we know NextGen technology will take us to the next level of safety. We’ve already seen it. In Alaska, where mountains cut large areas off from radar coverage, we outfitted general aviation planes with state-of-the-art NextGen cockpit displays. This gave pilots better weather information and a clearer view of mountainous terrain. It cut the accident rate nearly in half.

NextGen also makes business sense. It gets passengers where they want to go more quickly. It cuts fuel burn. And most importantly, it pays for itself with a very positive rate of return. Operators who have equipped for NextGen are already capturing real dollar savings. For example:

  • Southwest estimates it will save $60 million per year in fuel when it uses NextGen’s Required Navigation Performance procedures at airports across the country.
  • In the Gulf of Mexico, where there is no radar coverage, we now have new levels of safety and precision thanks to GPS-based surveillance and more direct routes. This technology is called Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast or ADS-B. Because of it, helicoptersare saving about 100 pounds of fuel per flight. They’re shaving about 5 to 10 minutes off flight time.
  • Airlines flying across the Pacific will be able to use a combination of improved capabilities to save an estimated 200 to 300 gallons per flight. That’s a lot of fuel – and a lot of savings – especially at today’s prices for Jet-A.
  • JetBlue has partnered with us to equip some of its aircraft with ADS-B. Its A320s will fly more direct routes – they can use the “HOV” lanes in the sky from Boston and New York to Florida and the Caribbean.

For the general aviation pilot, ADS-B provides better surveillance in fringe areas of radar coverage. ADS-B does not have the siting limitations of radar. Its accuracy is consistent throughout the range. ADS-B-equipped aircraft can get real-time traffic and flight information without a subscription fee. Those services exist in many areas now, and will be available approximately everywhere we have radar services today by 2013.

Now let me turn to a topic I know is of great interest to many of you – aircraft re-registration.

If you registered your aircraft before October 1 of last year, we’re going to need your cooperation in registering it again under a specific schedule we have rolled out.

I want to thank you for helping us with this because it’s very important that we have an accurate accounting of the civil aircraft in our country. We want to make sure safety directives get to the folks who actually own the airplanes. And we want to give law enforcement and Homeland Security accurate data if they need it. We currently have rules that require owners to let us know if they sell or scrap an aircraft, or if they change addresses. But many owners have simply not complied. So we are requiring that you re-register your plane over the next three years. We’ll also ask that you renew the registration every three years after that – to keep the information up to date. We intend to have all U.S. civil aircraft re-registered by December 31, 2013. Then we will cancel all N-numbers of planes not registered or renewed by that date.

Finally today, let me tell you a little about our long-term vision. With developments like airline industry consolidation – something you’ve experienced right here in Atlanta – and the transformation of the National Airspace System through NextGen, we need to make sure that the FAA is structured to meet the demands of this ever-evolving industry. To do that, we have developed a vision called Destination 2025 to help us:

  • Increase Aviation Safety
  • Create the Workplace of Choice
  • Deliver Aviation Access through Innovation
  • Sustain Our Future
  • Improve Global Performance through Collaboration

We already run a more efficient FAA today, and we’ll be even more efficient tomorrow. We’ve saved significant amounts 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. I am excited about the commitment I see in making the FAA a more effective and responsive agency. You’ll be hearing more, so stay tuned.

Thanks so much again for inviting me, and now I’ll be happy to take a few questions.