"Growing with NextGen"
Michael Huerta, Washington, DC
March 8, 2012

37th Annual FAA Aviation Forecast Conference


Thank you, Julie.  You and your staff have put together a great conference here with AAAE.

Earlier today you heard from the Secretary about how important aviation is for our economy. And in the panels this morning you heard about how this year’s forecast for growth is shaping up for the next 20 years. And, you heard about how we need to work together to ensure a smooth and integrated global air transportation system as we move to NextGen.

The forecast we released today looks at the number of planes and the number of people who will fly on U.S. carriers in the future – from 2012 to 2032. What we want is a picture of air travel which is free of constraints. We want to know what we the FAA should strive to meet and accommodate.

As we move forward, there will be starts and stops. We do expect a slight pause in growth this year, but over the long run, we expect aviation will continue to experience steady, moderate growth. This is despite the fact that we are operating in a climate of economic uncertainty and rising oil prices.

Last year 731 million people flew on U.S. air carriers. That number is expected to increase by 500 million over the next 20 years, for a total of 1.2 billion passengers.  That increase is like adding the entire population of the European Union.

The forecast also predicts that U.S. carrier traffic will continue to increase and nearly double in the next 20 years. Imagine a carrier the size of Jet Blue coming into the system every 10 months. That is the demand we are forecasting.

In general aviation we expect the demand for products and services will continue to grow, particularly in new business jets and light sport aircraft.

Again, let me say that this forecast is a projection into the future free of constraints. It tells us what the demand would be if we had no impediments to growth. It’s helpful for us to know what kind of growth is predicted, so that we can plan to accommodate it.

Growth in operations at our large airports is expected to outpace the growth at our small and non-hub airports.

As air carriers continue to consolidate their networks, this is going to increase the traffic at airports that are already quite busy.

For example, we see growth at our 30 busiest airports increasing by about 50 percent over the next 20 years. 

As we look ahead, we see that we need to modernize the system to prepare for this growth and to foster it.

The way we are going to handle the increasing demands on our system is to use advances in technology and of course, embrace NextGen.    

NextGen is a better way of doing business – for the FAA, the airlines, airports and the traveling public. It will make our system safer; it will make it more efficient and more predictable.  It’s vital to keeping the economic engine of aviation at full throttle—expanding on the 10 million jobs and 1.3 trillion dollars that civil aviation currently contributes to the U.S. economy.

First let me say that we have very good news for carrying out our plans with NextGen and other areas because the FAA has a new four-year authorization, which authorizes critical programs through FY 2015. We want to thank everyone for their hard work on that.  

After 23 short term extensions, we are pleased to have the stability that will boost safety, create jobs and facilitate the implementation of NextGen.

There is also good news for NextGen in the President’s 2013 budget. It proposes $1 billion for NextGen. This is an increase of almost $100 million, or 11 percent over what we received in 2012.

Many airlines are ready to use NextGen procedures and functionality. And we want to give them the procedures they need to fly these more direct and much more efficient routes.

The budget reflects a shift of a number of full-time positions from air traffic acquisition programs that we've finished up.  We're leveraging the expertise of those employees into the NextGen program.

We will beef up Performance Based Navigation activities in the Air Traffic Organization and also the certification and oversight of NextGen systems and procedures in our safety organization.  With these resources, we will expedite the development and deployment of NextGen that’s already underway.

I’d like to talk a little about Performance Based Navigation, because it is an excellent way to deliver benefits to users right away. We are continuing to expand our work in this area, and the president’s proposed budget includes a $20 million increase that will help the work we already have underway.  

Across the country, there are 21 different areas, or Metroplexes that surround big cities, and we know in each of these that we need to improve airspace.

This year we have kicked off the design and implementation phase of new airspace modernization efforts in Houston, Atlanta and Charlotte. We are underway with this work in the Washington, D.C. area as well as north Texas. Later this year, we will be kicking off our efforts in southern and northern California. 

Improving the airspace around these metropolitan areas is a collaborative effort among all parties. And because of this collaboration, we expect to modernize the airspace much more quickly than we would otherwise. It usually takes between five and 10 years to develop and implement the advanced navigation procedures we are talking about.

But under the Metroplex initiative, we expect to finish the work in three years. We are creating satellite-based procedures that will transform our national airspace system nationwide. These new flight tracks will relieve bottlenecks, improve safety and efficiency, and foster the flow of commerce.

At Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, we estimate that airlines flying into Atlanta will fly about 1.2 million fewer miles per year, based on the improved flight paths. Those paths, combined with other, fuel-saving descents, translate into a projected fuel savings of about 2.9 million gallons per year. It also means 30,000 fewer metric tons of carbon emissions released into the air. This is the total savings for all aircraft and airlines using Atlanta’s hub airport. As the busiest airport in the world, what helps Atlanta has ripple effects that help the entire country.

There’s another good development I want to share with you in Atlanta. Last fall, we were able to add a departure route out of Hartsfield-Jackson thanks to the precision of GPS. We are getting better use of the airspace and increasing the departures we can handle. Atlanta can clear up to 10 additional planes per hour thanks to NextGen.

This greater throughput reduces the amount of time aircraft wait to takeoff and it reduces delays. Because all these jets spend less time on the ground with engines idling, waiting to take off, this lowers fuel burn and decreases environmental impact.

All across the country we are getting these savings because of very precise Performance Based Navigation procedures, which will reduce the number of miles aircraft must fly by allowing them to take more direct routes. Southwest Airlines estimates that it saves $25 in fuel for every mile it saves because of a shorter flight track. 

And we are creating environmentally friendly Optimized Profile Descents (OPDs), which allow aircraft to make managed descents at reduced engine power, thus saving fuel.  The way we descend now requires leveling off at each stage, like walking down the stairs. It’s the aviation equivalent of stop-and-go driving along the highway. But with these new procedures, aircraft kind of glide down, like sliding down the bannister. They use less fuel and reduce emissions and noise.

At Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport we have implemented four of these Optimized Profile Descents in the last year. And the total cost saving by two air carriers there is estimated at $6.4 million per year. These are real benefits that are happening right now.

This conference is about aviation on a global level—and, as has already been discussed, we expect international markets to grow faster than U.S. domestic markets. I do want to add that we anticipate benefits from NextGen procedures on international flights as well.

In this case the benefit is coming from Automatic Dependent Surveillance –Broadcast technology used over the Pacific Ocean.

Pilots will have greater awareness of the location of other aircraft on those long flights over the Pacific where there is no radar.

This means they have a better opportunity to change altitudes to avoid turbulence. Also, they can ask to change to an altitude where their jet engines will burn fuel more efficiently.

It’s harder for pilots to change to higher altitudes now because of the large separation standards over the ocean. Aircraft have to keep significant distance from each other because no one can pinpoint in real-time the exact coordinates.

But by using ADS-B IN, pilots will know the location and speed of equipped aircraft nearby and can safely climb to altitudes where they burn less fuel.

And by carrying less fuel, the FAA estimates an airline operating between the United States and the South Pacific could earn $200,000 in additional payload revenue per aircraft each year.

There are many benefits that will accrue to all of us from NextGen. System-wide, we estimate that NextGen will reduce delays in the air and on the ground in the next decade by 38 percent, versus if we did nothing today. This reduction in delays translates into $24 billion in cumulative benefits for air carriers, the flying public and the FAA.

We also estimate that we will save a total of 1.4 billion gallons of fuel and reduce carbon emissions by 14 million metric tons system wide.

Harmonizing the various modernization efforts going on across the globe will be necessary to ensure that we have one worldwide, seamless airspace that can handle the growth ahead.

We are interdependent.  The FAA cannot implement NextGen in a vacuum.  And here in the United States, all of the changes we make mean nothing if operators are not equipped and trained to take advantage of them.

That is why this is a collaborative effort. It really does take all the partners coming to the table to determine the best way to move forward.

NextGen will only be successful if we work closely with the aviation community.  We’ve established a broad-based panel – the NextGen Advisory Committee—to provide guidance and recommendations. Combined with other industry partnerships, we will forge consensus on how to equip for NextGen and how to measure our successes.

I think the one thing we can agree on is that it’s more costly not to do NextGen.  If we delay investment, the long term cost to our nation – to our passengers and our environment – will far exceed the cost of going forward together at this time.

We know that the benefits are there. It’s a matter of setting priorities and realizing them. I know that all of this can seem hard to attain. There is so much we have to accomplish, and we are working in under fiscal constraints.

But I am reminded of a quote by Eddie Rickenbacker, the early leader of Eastern Airlines and a World War I flying ace. In his autobiography he wrote, “The very existence of aviation is proof that man, given the will, has the capacity to accomplish deeds that seem impossible.”

So, I will leave you with that thought. We are creating today a new template for how we manage air traffic here in the United States and around the world. You’ve seen and discussed the forecast numbers. Our system is growing and we need to become more efficient to handle that growth. It’s an exciting time for all of us in aviation and I thank you all for your support and hard work in bringing the benefits of NextGen to all of us.

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