"How States Have Fostered NextGen"
Michael Huerta, Washington, DC
February 27, 2012

American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, 2012 AASHTO Washington Briefing


Thank you, Paul (Mattox) for that kind introduction. It’s great to be here today with all of you. And it’s great to see our AASHTO and NASAO partners from all across the country who are dedicated to creating a transportation network that is built to last.

I want to recognize Kirk Steudle, president of AASHTO and Debbie Alke, Chairman of NASAO, for your leadership.

All of us are facing the challenges of how to move passengers and goods across our nation and around the world as safely and efficiently as possible.

And we are all using new technology to save fuel, to decrease carbon emissions, and to more accurately track our vehicles, our ships and our aircraft…and the cargo inside of them.

In the aviation world, we will be working in the next 15 years to transform from the radar-based air traffic system of the last century to the satellite system this century.  We know what we need to do, and we are very pleased that Congress, the aviation industry, and our local partners support our efforts.  

We are very pleased that Congress has given us the stability and predictability of a long term reauthorization.  I’m sure you’re aware that Congress has passed – and the President has signed – a new four-year authorization act for the FAA. This act authorizes critical FAA programs through FY 2015. And we want to thank everyone for their hard work in getting this legislation through.

After four-and-a-half years, and 23 short term extensions, we now have stability. This reauthorization will boost safety, create jobs and facilitate our NextGen modernization efforts.

This is so important when trying to plan long-term projects. For the Airport Improvement Program, it adds a whole lot of predictability so that we can plan and execute construction and get projects done.

We are not forced to pour concrete 50 feet at a time because we don’t know when the next installment is coming.

With that being said, the reauthorization has the same level of funding as we have this year – just under $16 billion – and it basically keeps that level and carries it forward for the next four years.

In many areas, the numbers in the reauthorization act are somewhat below what we have been planning for and what the President is asking for in his 2013 budget. So, we’ll have to see how the appropriations process plays out. But no matter what, we know we will need to be smarter about our priorities going forward.

Now, as I mentioned, we realize that our 2013 budget may not match up perfectly with all of the provisions in the authorization act.

One difference is in the way the budget proposes to fund airport improvements.

Our FY 2013 budget request includes an increase in the maximum Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs), from $4.50 to $7.00.

This increase would give large and medium hub airports greater flexibility to generate more revenue for airport development projects. It would allow airports to increase the PFC to generate more money themselves – money they can use for needed projects that don’t fall under the scope of AIP, like parking garages.

And it allows the FAA to maintain federal support of airport development at a lower overall program cost.

The FAA would focus federal resources on those airports – the smaller commercial and general aviation airports – which do not have the passenger volume to generate their own revenue, but are still important components of our national airspace system.

Christa Fornarotto, the FAA’s Associate Administrator for Airports, will talk at greater length about how the new legislation will affect the nation's airports and state aeronautical agencies later on in the conference.

The reauthorization clearly reflects Congress’ interest in integrating Unmanned Aerial Systems into our national airspace. We are working on how to select six test ranges to serve as pilot programs for the safe integration of UAS, per the reauthorization language.  I know a number of states have a very significant interest in this particular provision, and let me assure you that we will have an open and transparent process—but it’s also important to note that no funding was included for this provision.

The reauthorization also dovetails with our continued roll out of NextGen flight procedures around the country, which make a better use of airspace and save precious fuel.

We are currently analyzing the reauthorization act’s many provisions and expect to have a full evaluation of all the programmatic and budgetary implications completed soon. 

One thing that I can say for sure is that the FAA is committed to advancing the transformation of our airspace into the Next Generation. The President’s budget for 2013 requests about $1 billion for NextGen programs—and anticipates $4 billion over the next four years.

People sometimes wonder exactly what NextGen means. It can be something that seems overwhelming and hard to explain. But in reality, it’s quite simple. It means that we are using the GPS that we all use in our cars—and perfecting it to track and guide aircraft.

This is a very simple explanation, so the engineers in the room will have to forgive me. NextGen is a whole lot more. But in the simplest terms, we are transitioning from the 1950s-era radar technology that we have used faithfully and successfully for many decades, to newer satellite technology.

As we move forward, I welcome help from all 50 states in maximizing the benefits of NextGen.

Two years ago we formally agreed to work with NASAO to advance NextGen and I’m looking forward to signing our formal agreement tomorrow to continue to work together cooperatively on many fronts.

The National Association of State Aviation Officials has been around since before Amelia Earhart flew her Lockheed Vega across the Atlantic Ocean. It’s been around even before the FAA. We value our collaborative working relationship.

Let me give you a few examples of where state aviation officials have partnered with us to push NextGen forward.

First, let me start with the great state of Alaska– where it really all began. Alaska proves to be a wonderful testing ground for NextGen technology.  Alaska has very challenging terrain – mountains and vast stretches of territory without radar coverage. As they say, the private aircraft is like a minivan for the people of rural Alaska. It’s how they get around.

The FAA outfitted general aviation planes with state-of-the-art NextGen cockpit displays in Alaska to help navigate around mountains that cut off large areas from radar coverage.

This gave pilots better weather information and a clearer view of mountainous terrain. It cut the accident rate almost in half.

It was a collaborative effort between industry, the FAA, the University of Alaska at Anchorage and the state of Alaska. The project won the National Aeronautic Association’s Collier Trophy.

The state of Alaskahelped us determine where to put ground-based transmitters to test Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B). They helped us choose the best airports for testing, which were mostly small airports in bush Alaska.

Later in 2008, the state legislature of Alaska created a low interest loan program to equip aircraft with ADS-B technology.

Alaska has been a great partner in helping the development and rollout of NextGen. We’ve also worked closely with other states.

In Colorado, NextGen has opened up ski towns to tourists during all kinds of weather.

Many times, bad weather causes flight delays and cancellations to remote airports during ski season from the months of November to April.

Also, because of the mountainous terrain, air traffic controllers have to follow certain guidelines that slow operations and spreads them out more because they can’t track the aircraft using radar.  Radar does not go through mountains. But NextGen has created a better way of tracking those aircraft.

A technology that communicates with a plane’s transponder solves the problem of radar blockage in the mountains of Colorado and allows the air traffic controllers to see the planes.

Now, just to be fair to Alaska, let me state that yes, this technology was already working at Juneau International Airport. Colorado is making it work in their state at several airports.

This has been a great example of cooperation between the FAA and the state of Colorado. The state and each of the four airports contributed a total of $4 million to the project for a technical consultant to work full time to find a solution. The state made available, at reduced cost, the telecommunications towers where the equipment was located.

Four airports have benefited from this technology.  They are the smaller ski destinations that don’t have radar coverage– Yampa Valley-Hayden; Craig-Moffat; Steamboat Springs and Garfield County Regional-Rifle.

Previously, during inclement weather, arrivals to these airports were down around four aircraft per hour. Now with NextGen, they are at 14 per hour. That has reduced delays and cancellations, and more passengers are coming to those airports. They are spending money in those towns, bringing economic benefit to the region.

Across the nation, we are continuing to install ADS-B ground transceivers to build the backbone of the NextGen air traffic surveillance system.

And we are exploring partnership opportunities with state DOT’s as we map out this nationwide system of ADS-B ground transceivers. We want to maximize the coverage that we can offer and improve safety.

Let me give you one more example of how NextGen can help our local partners and improve the environment.

In the state of Washington, airlines that use NextGen procedures will save several millions of dollars per year because they will burn less fuel and produce less carbon dioxide and other harmful emissions.

We are developing these new NextGen procedures through our “Greener Skies over Seattle” initiative.  We expect that aircraft will emit about 22,000 metric tons less carbon dioxide per year – the equivalent of taking more than 4,000 cars off the streets of Seattle.

Those are some of the examples of how NextGen is already helping to improve our air transportation system around the country and bringing real benefits to states, cities, airlines, pilots and passengers now.

We are going to continue to implement new technologies that will make our system safer, quieter, cleaner and more efficient in the years ahead.  

I look forward to working with all of you as we prepare our national transportation system to handle the challenges of the next century. It’s a very exciting time to be in aviation.

I’ll be happy to open it up to questions if there are any.

Thank you.

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