"NextGen Partnerships"
J. Randolph Babbitt, Washington, DC
June 15, 2011

RTCA Annual Symposium


Thank you, Agam (Sinha) for that kind introduction. It’s a pleasure to be here today with all of you. I see many familiar faces in the audience. The FAA and RTCA are like cousins. We work closely together and we value the advice you have given us.

As you will hear throughout this conference, NextGen requires a very concerted effort from all of us. We are all interconnected.

We have an extremely safe and very complex aviation system that integrates a host of technologies and procedures operated by hundreds of thousands of hard working people.

As government and industry work together to implement NextGen, I am reminded of something that U.S. naturalist and environmentalist John Muir said. He said:

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” 

He wrote those words 100 years ago, in 1911, about the ecosystem of the Sierra Nevada. But the same idea applies to our aviation system.

We are all connected, using the same system. And it’s a complicated and interdependent system. As we move forward with NextGen, it will be even more evident that each technology depends upon the other and complements it.

All of the people in this room are joined in a common purpose – and that is to shape the next 100 years of flight. We are committed to moving together from the ground-based navigation system of the last century to the satellite-based navigation system of tomorrow.  We all depend on each other.

Input from RTCA has been crucial as we move forward. That’s what RTCA is all about. It’s about bringing government and industry together to make the best decisions. It’s about brilliant people who are passionate about their work and about technology.

RTCA’s Task Force 5 recommendations two years ago helped us to shape the way we implement NextGen.

We listened to you and worked with RTCA to create the NextGen Advisory Committee, or NAC. It is part of our effort to change the FAA’s oversight structure to be more in keeping with current demands. The NAC and its hard working subcommittees have started the very important dialogue with industry on how we prioritize the elements of NextGen.

We very much need this input. As we go forward, I think we can all agree that equipage is a critical building block for NextGen. And everyone will bear the responsibility of modernizing our system. The FAA cannot do NextGen alone. This must be a partnership.

We have asked the NextGen Advisory Committee to look at the issue of equipage and come back to us in the fall with a consensus proposal. We also know there are a number of private proposals. We’re open to all ideas. These are tough economic times and we need to balance our fiscal restraints with the need for equipage.

Building the infrastructure for NextGen, without all of us working to equip the aircraft, is like building a great race car without tires. We can sit in the garage and rev-up, but we’re not going anywhere. 

In the meantime, we have been moving ahead with NextGen implementation and we’ve made some very tangible gains in the last year. Companies have already done the math and seen the business case for equipping for NextGen.  These companies are realizing real fuel cost savings, which is particularly valuable with today’s jet fuel prices.

I want to share a few examples of where NextGen is adding real dollars to the bottom line.

Southwest Airlines started using GPS-based Required Navigation Performance (RNP) approaches at a dozen airports this year. They estimate they’ll save $60 million a year in fuel once they can use these procedures system-wide. And we will all benefit from fewer emissions and less delays.   

Alaska Airlines has been a leader in using RNP approach procedures at Juneau International Airport. They can fly precisely through mountainous terrain in low visibility conditions thanks to the higher navigational accuracy of GPS.

The airline estimates it would have cancelled 729 flights last year into Juneau alone due to bad weather if it were not for the GPS-based RNP approaches. Those were passengers who got in. No diversions. No ground holds. Safe and on time.

More than 250 of these “RNP” procedures are now published in the U.S. and are available for use by nearly 2,000 airline and business aviation aircraft. We are working on more.

Alaska Airlines is joining the FAA, the Port of Seattle and Boeing to further develop GPS-based RNP 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 RNP 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. 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. That’s opposed to descending in a stair-step fashion and 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 RNAV and RNP procedures and fuel-saving optimized descents at more airports. And we are streamlining our process for doing this.

We call it NAV-Lean. It’s another area where we listened to the Task Force and are working to incorporate recommendations into the way we’re doing business.

Our goal is to streamline the development and implementation for new procedures to ensure that users can take advantage of new navigational procedures and their benefits as quickly as possible. We hope to cut processing time by at least 40 percent.

With ADS-B, we have achieved new levels of safety and efficiency for air travel in the Gulf of Mexico where there is no radar coverage. Helicopters in the Gulf are ferrying as many as 10,000 workers a day out to thousands of oil rigs. Equipped aircraft are saving five to 10 minutes a flight and 100 pounds of fuel each flight.

And the FAA has partnered with JetBlue to equip some of its aircraft with ADS-B, which will allow the company’s A320s to fly more direct routes – not unlike HOV lanes – over the water. JetBlue will be able to take advantage of new RNAV 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.  We hope it will 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.

One of the building blocks for NextGen is our En-Route Automation Modernization, or ERAM initiative.

This program has more than 1.4 million lines of code and it’s taking us from an antiquated system that looks like a patch-work quilt, to one that is more uniform and can display more information to controllers.

ERAM has not been without challenges.  But I am confident in the waterfall schedule we have laid out. 

We have it up and running now in Seattle and Salt Lake City.

ERAM has been running more than 230 consecutive days in Salt Lake City and more than 160 consecutive days in Seattle. Controllers are using it to control traffic.

We are collaborating with NATCA and our controllers and managers in the field – something that was not adequately done at the outset of this effort. We’re listening to the controllers and fixing the issues they have. And we expect to have initial operational capability at more centers this fall.

NextGen requires us to be more nimble. And as we move forward, we are working to change our familiar governance and management structures to make them more efficient and effective.

As part of this change, we have recently revised the structure of the NextGen organization.  Subject to congressional approval, it will move from the Air Traffic Organization and will report directly to Deputy Administrator Michael Huerta. He will be overseeing the strategic direction for NextGen, defining operational requirements, ensuring system integration and guiding the implementation process. 

We believe this structure will enable the NextGen organization to concentrate on short-term and long-term goals without the burden of dealing with day-to-day operational concerns as well. NextGen is bigger than any one of the FAA’s lines of business and affects all of them.

I want to close today by highlighting that we have embraced the recommendation that we need to look at metropolitan areas where NextGen capabilities would be best put to use.

So we are building on our experience and taking a coordinated approach to getting the most out of our airspace in busy metro areas. We’ve identified 21 such areas.

Rather than develop a procedure for one airport, we are bringing stakeholders to the table to talk about what we can do to improve airports in an entire metro area. 

Maybe we need RNAV or RNP procedures, or Optimized Profile Descents, or precision departures, or further FAA coordination with local governments. But the key point here is that we are looking at the big picture to improve throughput at airports in a metro area as a whole.

We’ve already completed assessments of the airspace around Dallas-Fort Worth and Washington, D.C. and made recommendations for improvement. And we’re finishing studies at Charlotte and Northern California. Next up: Houston, Atlanta and Southern California.

As we modernize our system and roll out NextGen, we are going to need to remember that we are all inter-connected.

We will need partnerships with industry, with operators, with researchers and manufacturers to create this new system.

This is a very exciting time in aviation, because together we are creating the template for a new system. 

The companies that equip first will be the first to benefit.  

So, I thank you for your attention and I appreciate your help, your investment and your bright ideas as we mold the Next Generation air transportation system. 

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