"NextGen Benefits"
Michael Huerta, Washington, DC
April 24, 2012

Aviation Week – NextGen Conference


Thank you for that kind introduction, Ed (Hazelwood).

It is a pleasure to be here to discuss one of our nation’s largest infrastructure projects underway today – NextGen. I am encouraged by the diverse participation here this morning of so many representing the world of aviation.

As you know, updating our national airspace system through NextGen is extremely important, and we don’t think of it that way, but it really is. It will change the way we fly and is crucial to improving the efficiency and flexibility of our entire aviation system. This translates into continued economic growth for the country. NextGen does it in a way that is safer, faster, and more environmentally sound. What we’re doing is a significant paradigm shift. We are changing from a ground-based system of air traffic control to a satellite-based system of air traffic management. And this change is fundamental and crucial to meeting future demand.

Next year’s budget includes $1 billion for NextGen, an increase of almost $100 million, or 11 percent, over FY 2012. NextGen benefits everyone: the traveling public, the airlines, the airports and the communities they serve, commercial carriers, private pilots, and other aspects of the aviation industry. It’s vital to keeping the economic engine of aviation at full capacity—expanding on the 10 million jobs that exist in aviation and 1.3 trillion dollars that civil aviation already contributes annually to the American economy.

And, we are projecting that airline passenger travel will nearly double in the next 20 years. That’s a lot more planes, carrying a lot more passengers, who will all need to arrive safely and on time at their destinations.

NextGen can meet the challenge, and is already doing so now. NextGen will deliver more on-time and fuel-efficient flights, and continue to ensure that our system remains the safest air transportation system in the world. Using new technology through NextGen, we are providing a better travel experience.

Already, we’re witnessing the benefits of NextGen. At Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta, we were able to add a departure route thanks to the precision of GPS. We are getting better use of the airspace and increasing the number of departures we can handle. Atlanta is able to clear up to 10 additional planes per hour thanks to NextGen. And, of course, as the busiest airport in the world, improvements at Hartsfield-Jackson have ripple effects that help the aviation system and that help the whole country.

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

Across the country, we are creating satellite-based procedures that will transform our national airspace system. Satellite navigation is a great way to deliver benefits to users right away. We are continuing to expand our work in this area, and the President’s proposed 2013 budget includes a $20 million increase to help continue the work we already have underway. The new flight tracks will relieve bottlenecks, improve safety and efficiency, and foster the flow of commerce. We’re already doing this work in busy metropolitan areas like Houston, Atlanta, Charlotte, north Texas, northern California, and right here in the Washington, D.C. region. And more cities will follow.

In Houston, we are creating very precise satellite-based procedures, which will cut 648,000 nautical miles from flight plans each year. These shorter routes and other NextGen procedures also will add up to savings of three million gallons of fuel. It means a reduction in carbon emissions of 31,000 metric tons. That’s like taking more than 6,000 cars off the streets of Houston every year. This is all thanks to NextGen advances.

Now we want aircraft to follow more precise and efficient routes, and we also want them to descend toward the airport in a way that saves fuel. We are creating environmentally-friendly Optimized Profile Descents (OPDs), which allow aircraft to make managed descents at reduced engine power, thus saving fuel. When we talk about this publicly, to the general public, we describe the descent as now requiring a 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 almost glide down, like sliding down the bannister. They use less fuel, produce less emissions and reduce noise.

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

On international flights, we expect benefits as well, by using Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast over the Pacific Ocean. Using ADS-B IN, pilots will know the location and speed of nearby equipped aircraft, 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.

ADS-B IN gives pilots greater awareness of the location of other aircraft on those long flights over the Pacific where there is limited radar coverage.

NextGen will also help us be even more proactive about preventing accidents with advanced safety management to enable us, with other public and private partners, to better predict risks, and then identify and resolve hazards.

There are many other benefits of NextGen, but I would like to give a snapshot of another key program that is a safety measure and a major time reducer: data communications. Data Comm is critical to the evolution of our airspace and the successful implementation of NextGen. As with the other components of NextGen, it is about speed and efficiency. It’s a building block of the system.

Data Comm will provide departure clearances for aircraft in written form, like a text, rather than spoken on the radio. Under the current system, any change to a clearance within 30 minutes of push back must be done by a controller talking on the radio. Bad weather can complicate this – and clearances can change many times for multiple aircraft. This causes major departure delays. Sending a revised departure clearance via data significantly reduces the amount of time needed to issue these clearances.

We plan to test Data Comm at three sites – in Memphis with FedEx, Newark with United, and Atlanta with Delta. This collaboration between the FAA and the airlines is the kind of public–private partnership that will move us forward.

Data Comm is just one part of the big NextGen picture. But, it shows the relevance and importance of interconnecting technologies. It also shows how important it is to work together as operators, regulators, unions, and airports. This is how we’ll make it work successfully.

Likewise, the globe is increasingly interconnected, and aviation is not only part of this, but is in fact leading the way in making the world smaller. We in the United States cannot move forward on this effort without coordination with our international partners.

Harmonizing these various modernization efforts across the globe is necessary to ensure that we have one worldwide, seamless airspace that can handle the growth ahead.

So, it is clear that NextGen is not something that the FAA is doing in a vacuum. It is truly a public-private partnership. If it is to be implemented successfully, we must work with you, the broader aviation community. To facilitate this, we have a broad-based panel – the NextGen Advisory Committee—to provide guidance and recommendations. This, along with the NextGen Institute and other industry partnerships, will forge consensus on how to build NextGen and how to measure our successes.

And, supporting this is training and effective program management. We created our Program Management Organization within the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization to better manage our major acquisition programs. This office enables us to work across organizational boundaries to help NextGen move forward. Consolidating our program management functions in a single place provides cost-cutting measures, and strengthens communication amongst the many entities involved. All of this together is paving the way for NextGen’s success.

NextGen is truly bringing aviation into a new world and making the globe more inter-connected. We can’t do it without crucial partnerships with all of the stakeholders who are key to the process. We have a lot to accomplish, but we will get there together as an aviation industry. Thank you.

###