"Cooperating for Safety and Growth"
J. Randolph Babbitt, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, DC
September 26, 2011

2011 U.S.-China Aviation Summit

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Geoff (Jackson, U.S. Trade and Development Agency). It’s a pleasure to be here today with professionals from both the United States and China who play a key role in forging the future of aviation.

As the two largest aviation systems in the world, it’s important for us to come together to talk about the path forward.

Our two systems will influence how air traffic management systems function globally. They will influence the seamless transition through international airspace that we are all working to achieve.  

We share a mutual commitment to safety. It is our number one priority. We also play an important role in developing policies and procedures that will make aviation friendlier to the environment.

This symposium continues 30 years of aviation cooperation between the United States and China.

As part of that cooperative effort, I met with top officials in Beijing last year at the China Civil Aviation Development Forum, hosted by my counterpart, Administrator Li (Lee). It was an in-depth visit, and I was encouraged by the commitment to the growth of civil aviation among all members of China’s aviation community.   

I saw that commitment reflected at the China aviation pavilion at the World Expo in Shanghai during the same trip.

Civil aviation in China is growing exponentially, with an increasing number of flights and airlines. Young people in China are becoming accustomed to flying as a regular means of transportation rather than as something reserved for a special occasion.

China is not just looking at the next generation of air traffic systems and technology but also at the next generation of air travelers, who are going to influence expectations for the country’s aviation system.

China’s current five year plan calls for construction of 56 new airports to accommodate the expected double digit growth in passenger volume in the Chinese domestic market during the next five years. In the face of this growth, China’s commitment to safety remains very strong.  

Our two agencies –the FAA and the CAAC—continue to share information to strengthen our mutual commitment to safety. Just last month in Boston, we had our 15th annual meeting of our respective flight standards operations. We continue to share information on how we can work together to enhance safety on all aspects of aircraft operations—airlines, pilots, mechanics, dispatchers and flight attendants.

We agreed to continue cooperation to improve safety oversight through data analysis. This is very important and something that we are working very hard to improve in the United States.

At the FAA, we are taking steps to build on the professionalism of our industry and enhance our safety culture.

Safety Management Systems will play a key role.

We are working to make the shift from a safety system that relies on forensics, to one where we use computer analyses to show us trends and help us make safety decisions before an accident happens.

The cost of a Safety Management System is far less than the cost of an accident.

No company or organization is too small for a Safety Management System, but the key is, it doesn’t have to look the same everywhere.

If you have one airplane, you already have an SMS. It’s called a logbook.  

You write down your observations. You find risks and trends. You prioritize and mitigate them.

A Safety Management System is scalable. You can tailor it to the size and complexity of your organization.

More important, though, is that using Safety Management Systems is the right thing to do.  We need to step above and beyond where we are today. Simply complying with the letter of the regulations is not enough to get us there. 

Ideally we want all Safety Management Systems around the world to be in harmony. We all need to define a hazard the same way and share data in a meaningful way. 

By continuing our close working relationship, and by continuing to share information, we will continue to move towards the next level of safety.  

Cooperation is even more critical now that we are embracing a transformation into the Next Generation Air Transportation System.

We are moving from radar to satellites; from traditional skyways to streamlined routes and from air traffic control to air traffic management.  

While this may seem like something that’s happening in the future, NextGen is happening now and we have tangible examples of success with NextGen technologies.

We have formally adopted satellite-based surveillance technology to track aircraft. Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, or ADS-B, is working in the Gulf of Mexico, where there is no radar.  This surveillance system has brought us to new levels of safety and precision. Today equipped helicopters in the Gulf are saving about 100 pounds of fuel and shaving approximately five to 10 minutes off flight times, thanks to ADS-B.

And some of your colleagues from China recently visited Louisville, Ky. and Memphis, Tenn. to see the improvements we have made by working closely with the main airlines there.

In Louisville we are using ADS-B technology combined with radar to control live air traffic. The information is fused into one presentation on the screen and is updated continuously. It provides enhanced surveillance coverage. UPS has equipped its entire fleet with ADS-B technology.

The airline has also been flying demonstration arrival procedures at Louisville using NextGen technology. UPS estimates it will save between 25 percent and 30 percent in fuel burn during the last 40 minutes of flight thanks to these new optimized descents. The aircraft are equipped with GPS navigation that allows them to descend precisely from cruise altitude with engines idle. We expect that these new NextGen procedures will be published and available for all users of Louisville International Airport in the next several months.

In Memphis we have worked closely with Federal Express to improve air traffic flow and we expect to publish 18 new NextGen departures and seven new fuel-saving optimized descents for that airport next year.

Our NextGen technology also promises to bring improvements to airport capacity by paving the way for full operations at airports with closely spaced parallel runways under low visibility conditions. 

We want to see the safety and efficiency benefits from these procedures system-wide. We’re working to design more GPS-based procedures at more airports, including general aviation airports. And we are streamlining our process for doing this. These procedures will set the stage for greater safety and efficiency. And we will all benefit from fewer emissions and delays.

Before closing today, I would like to congratulate the 30 Chinese aviation officials who are here participating in the Executive Management Development Training program, sponsored by the U.S.-China Aviation Cooperation Program. We are delighted that you are here and can bring new ideas and skills to China to help run airlines, airports and aircraft manufacturing.

As a former commercial airline pilot who has flown thousands of hours in the civil aviation system, I have pondered the meaning of professionalism for some time now. I think that we really show professionalism not only when we are dealing with an emergency, but when everything is going perfectly well. When things are smooth, a professional doesn’t relax, but still conducts business in an orderly fashion.

Air passengers expect perfection from the aviation industry every hour, every day, all year long.

From the largest airline, to the smallest airport, to the mechanic on the line, the safe functioning of the system rests on our trust in the individual. It rests on our trust in professionalism and doing the job well. I often talk about the importance of doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.

While my agency and the CAAC can write rules, it really does come down to each of you. We cannot regulate personal responsibility and pride in the job. That has to come from within. As we work together to forge a new template for managing air traffic globally, I look forward to working with a new generation of professionals around the world.

I would like to extend my best wishes for a successful symposium today. We at the FAA welcome the opportunity to participate and to discuss, both formally and informally, the many things that we have to learn from each other.

Thank you very much.