"Innovation and Collaboration in the Second Century of Flight"
Michael Huerta, Washington, DC
May 15, 2012

Aeroclub


Thank you very much, Bob (Bergman), for that very kind introduction. It’s a pleasure to be here among so many people who are devoted to aviation and the spirit of innovation and also the spirit of partnership and collaboration that characterize our industry. It’s really great to be here.  

In the past few days, newspapers across the country have published stories celebrating the life of an aviation pioneer—Evelyn Bryan Johnson. She died on May 10th at the age of 102 years old.  During her illustrious career she served as a flight instructor, an airport manager, a tour operator and, yes, as an FAA pilot examiner. But her real accomplishment is that she flew 57,635 hours, more than any other woman in history—and the second most of any human being.  That’s about six-and-a-half years in the air. It’s no wonder they called her “Mama Bird.”

Evelyn Johnson was a real pioneer who had a front row seat to watch the meteoric growth of aviation and its dramatic evolution.  During her life, aviation progressed from bon fires to beacons and from propellers to jet engines. It was a time of tremendous discovery and innovation.

When Evelyn was just a child, an important milestone took place in aviation history. Today, May 15th, is the anniversary of that milestone. It was on this day in 1918 when the first official air mail route was flown in the United States.  This story is less about technology and more about collaboration. 

Because you see, the Post Office and the U.S. Army Air Service established an air mail route between New York and Washington, D.C. with a stop in Philadelphia.

The pilots flew two-seat, bi-planes – the Curtiss Jenny.

It was a less than auspicious beginning.

One of the pilots was handed a map and told to follow the railroad tracks from Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia. He barely cleared the trees, then he got lost. Finally, he landed in a farm in Maryland, and he flipped over. The other pilots found their way and they were able to deliver the mail that day.

It took a great deal of collaboration among many different entities to launch and continue air mail service in the United States. It was not perfect at first, but they stuck with it and ultimately they were successful.

Innovation and collaboration – those are two of the most important elements that fueled aviation in its first century.  And it’s going to take a great deal of both as we define the second century of flight. 

This is an historic time in aviation.

If you stop and think about it, it’s amazing how far we’ve come since the Wright brothers made their historic flight. Our industry is all about overcoming obstacles to achieve what no one thought was possible.

What we do over the next several years is going to affect the air transportation system in this country for decades to come. That’s why it is critical that the FAA, other government agencies, and all the various components of the industry work together innovatively and collaboratively as we lay the foundation for the future.

I am honored that President Obama has nominated me to lead this great agency as we undertake this challenge.  And I remain squarely focused on our top mission: ensuring the safety of our nation’s aviation system for the traveling public. 

The technology we use today is very safe, but it limits our ability to grow efficiently. We must move to the greater safety and efficiency we will achieve through the precision of GPS. The whole world is going in this direction and we need to create templates for others to follow.

All of us here have to work together to make decisions about how we are going to harness the greater safety and efficiency of new technology.  And all of this is happening at a time of great change for the economy, for our society, and for the environment. 

At the FAA, I’ve asked our leadership team to focus on three main areas as we face the challenges ahead.

  • Number one, is making the safest aviation system in the world even safer and smarter, and I put the emphasis on smarter.
  • Number two, is accelerating the benefits of new technology—and here I have really emphasized benefits for the public now.
  • And number three, is making sure that we empower our employees to embrace innovation and to work efficiently. 

We have a lot to build on:

We issued a landmark rule to address pilot fatigue.

We have made great strides in our relationship with our labor unions.

And Congress has passed, and the President has signed, a long-term reauthorization that put an end to four-and-half-years of stop-gap funding measures.

All of this is excellent progress. We created a vision for what aviation would look like in the year 2025 and we are sticking with the vision and the plans that will get us there.

But we at the FAA cannot do it alone.

As I mentioned, we are at a pivotal time in aviation. We are moving from radar to satellites, from radios to data messages and from airways that zig-zag the country to more direct routes.

So first, we need to focus on how we can use new techniques to make the safest system even safer and smarter.

When you think about the progress we’ve made in safety since Evelyn Johnson began flying in 1944, it’s tremendously impressive.  The industry has a great safety record, but we cannot rest on our laurels. 

We are moving from a system of accident investigation and forensic study, to a proactive analysis of data. We want to understand what might happen so that we can make changes to address safety risks. That’s a smarter way of doing business.

And we plan to address this in a variety of ways. We want operators to establish Safety Management Systems. This is how we find out where problems exist, and how we catch errors and improve safety. At the FAA we are already using SMS in our Air Traffic Organization and we will extend it to other areas within the agency.

The aviation industry is a leader in using data to analyze risk. We have several safety programs that are based on individuals who report errors and safety-related information. They do so with reasonable protection from company discipline or FAA enforcement.

The result is an abundance of safety information that otherwise would probably not come to light—and the ability to work collaboratively to analyze it across different operators and different types of employees in the aviation industry. 

Our goal is to understand the behavior and correct it, to enhance our safety culture.

At the FAA we have created similar safety databases, based on non-punitive reporting for air traffic controllers and for those who repair our equipment.  

These kinds of databases help us all continuously improve training, so employees are equipped to handle a wide variety of situations. This is one of the ways we are being more collaborative and much smarter about how we achieve safety.

While making our system safer, we also want to integrate new technology into our day-to-day operations.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems are cutting edge technology and we are committed to safely integrating them into our national air space.  There is a lot of interest in unmanned aircraft and a lot of work to do. We are identifying six test ranges that will support integration of UAS. And wecontinue working on a rule for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems. 

Now the direction we received from Congress is to safely integrate such systems into our air space, and we will do just that.

Unmanned aircraft are one of the many areas where we are developing new rules and procedures to change our airspace.

And we are changing our airspace. The Next Generation air transportation system is happening now. And a transformation as large as NextGen requires both innovation and collaboration on even greater levels than we have ever seen.

We’re making progress on an important NextGen capability by collaborating with industry to test how we move towards greater reliance on data communications. Data Comm is critical to the evolution of our airspace. It is essential to the successful implementation of NextGen.  It is about safety, speed and efficiency.  

Data Comm initially will provide departure clearances for aircraft, which will appear as text on a screen, rather than spoken words over the radio. It saves time and improves safety, especially when bad weather slows operations. It will extend to other uses as we move forward.

Now we plan to test Data Comm at three sites within the next year. We’ll test 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. 

Another example of how we are collaborating now to bring benefits to the public as soon as possible is the Metroplex initiative. This program shows what happens when we encourage our employees to think out of the box and come up with innovative solutions.

We know we need to improve the efficiency of airspace above congested metropolitan areas. To do this, several offices within the FAA worked extensively with the aviation community to design precise GPS routes that will accelerate benefits. 

We are breaking down the stovepipes in this agency. Right now, air space designers and environmental specialists are working together, simultaneously, on these new navigation procedures. The environmental folks weigh in early and often, and the process is moving along much faster than it otherwise would. We have empowered our employees to change the way they work and to collaborate.

We have airlines, airports, labor unions and other partners sitting at the same table, all of us working together toward a common objective.

We are making changes to our airspace in three years that would normally take five to 10 years to complete under our old way of doing business.

The result is that we are creating new, more direct routes across the country that will relieve bottlenecks and congestion. These routes will improve safety and efficiency, and foster the flow of commerce. We are making great progress in Houston, Atlanta, Charlotte, California, north Texas and right here in metropolitan Washington, D.C.  And more regions will follow.  

In these metro areas alone, we expect to see significant benefits. Satellite-based navigation is expected to cut a total of seven million nautical miles from flight plans around these cities each year. These shorter routes, together with gradual descents that cut back on engine power, are projected to save at least 22 million gallons of fuel. For these cities, that’s a total reduction in carbon emissions of 220,000 metric tons. That’s like taking more than 43,000 cars off the streets.  

When we deconflict the airspace around a large metro area it also helps general aviation because it clears the way for better access to GA airports. We are designing new satellite-based procedures and separate flight tracks for reliever airports. GA pilots can bypass busy hubs, enjoy the skies and fly where they need to go.   

This is all thanks to NextGen.

We’re also taking a much more inclusive look at aviation infrastructure in this country. We have worked with a number of the organizations in this room to complete a report on general aviation airports. The report highlights the major aeronautical functions that GA airports support. And these functions are critical to the health and wealth of the American people.

Whether it’s helping to relieve congestion at a major hub or providing better access to a rural airport, NextGen is one of the largest infrastructure initiatives underway in the United States today. It is transforming our aviation system and it is transforming the way we do business.

It’s an ambitious agenda. And we know our record for large acquisition programs has been mixed, but we have learned from our experience. We’ve put in place formal metrics to track and evaluate NextGen milestones to ensure that we have the appropriate management and oversight.

We have established a new organization specifically focused on implementing major technology programs. This will strengthen and improve the coordination among NextGen initiatives, ushering them from the drawing board to live operation. And our NextGen team will ensure that at the enterprise level, we are fully integrated, engaged and ready to deliver 21st century benefits to the flying public.

We are embracing some major technological changes that will improve our airspace, but we cannot lose sight of the important role that our people play in making all of this happen. What will make us successful is empowering our employees to work creatively and to build a solid future. We have to leverage the innovation, the inspiration, and the creativity of people not just in the FAA, but across the entire aviation industry.

If you think back to nearly 100 years ago, two different agencies worked together to move mail by air for the first time. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. It changed the way we communicate and as a result, drew our country closer together.

We’ve witnessed an amazing number of aviation milestones since “Mama Bird” Johnson soloed her Piper J-3 Cub.  It’s almost mind-boggling to think how much transformation occurred in just one aviator’s lifetime. It’s all thanks to the innovative efforts and creative thinking from all corners of the aviation industry.

Now we are transforming our entire airspace to take advantage of the technologies of the future. It won’t be easy, but we can’t afford to forego the enhanced accuracy, safety and efficiency these new technologies will bring. NextGen is the way of the future. We are building a new and even safer way to fly. And we will need to work together to make this change.

Henry Ford said it well, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.

None of us can do it alone, but together, we can, and we will, lift our aviation system to new heights.

“Mama Bird” would be very proud indeed.  

Thank you very much.

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