"The Ever-Changing World of Aviation"
Michael Huerta, Washington, DC
August 9, 2012

ALPA Safety Forum


As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Lee (Moak),for the opportunity to be here today to share my thoughts on safety and on the future of the FAA.  You know, I appreciate the opportunity to speak with ALPA at various forums this year.  And I value the relationship we have with ALPA. Working together on safety issues in a proactive way really makes a significant difference.  The future of aviation depends on this collaboration. 
John F. Kennedy put it eloquently when he said: “For time and the world do not stand still.  Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

This is especially true in aviation – it has always been a spirited, forward-thinking and very innovative industry.  Kennedy’s statement could not be more applicable than today – we are in the midst of revolutionary change. You’ve heard about many new developments in safety, airline crew health, fatigue management and unmanned aircraft systems.       

And, of course, another fundamental change occurring in aviation now is NextGen.  It is a major technological transformation which will increase our efficiency and safety, reduce delays and reduce fuel consumption.  As you can imagine, it is a complex transition.  But, we are making steady headway.

We also continue to see rapid technological transformation in today’s aircraft.  And to maintain pace with these changes, our training must keep pilots up-to-speed with new and sophisticated technology.  It must also stress the fundamental aspects of flying. 

Despite the sophistication of aircraft, we’re really focused on giving pilots more and better training on how to recognize and recover from stalls and aircraft upsets.  We are able to do this in the advanced flight simulators we have today.  Training supports and propels this revolution in aviation. 

New training will be conducted as if the pilots were actually on a flight, rather than in a highly controlled scenario.  We’ve seen recently that inappropriate stall recovery can be a major contributing factor in accidents.  We cannot not lose sight of the importance of training on the core aspects of flying, such as crew management, and stall recovery, or other events that might occur when there is a change or loss in automation systems. 

We believe scenario-based training will enhance safety for the kind of emergencies that happen so rarely.  But we want pilots to have sufficient knowledge, experience and confidence so they can appropriately handle any situation. Ultimately, it’s the pilots today who must be ‘system managers’ of their aircraft.   

And, we want crew to be well-rested.  As you know, to support this we completed the new flight and duty time rule last year.  We all hold the responsibility of combating fatigue in the cockpit.  The new rule gives pilots enough time to get needed rest, based on different operations–long haul, or short haul, day or night.  

The rule covers all passenger operations, but as you know, we were not able to apply it to all-cargo operations.  However, all-cargo operators are encouraged to voluntarily comply with the new regulations, and Secretary Ray LaHood and I consistently promote this option with them.  I also recognize that some cargo operators are addressing the issue of rest for their pilots, and they are doing some innovative things.

Unmanned aircraft systems are also changing the face of aviation.  These systems offer unique operations on a multitude of efforts.  However, they must be integrated into our airspace to the highest degree of safety.

Listening to everyone’s concerns and appreciating different points of view is the first step in ushering in a new technology and successfully integrating it into our airspace.

Building new technology is one thing, and some might say that’s the biggest challenge.  But building human consensus on a path forward for our aviation system is equally important.

We are not going to do anything that compromises safety when it comes to integration.  In order to do that, we need good, solid data.  Earlier this spring, we asked for public input on establishing six test sites for civil unmanned aircraft systems. We received a lot of comments – more than 200. And we held two webinars with more than 400 people attending. We are evaluating the comments and expect to ask for proposals to manage these sites soon.  We are also studying training requirements, operator experience and uses of airspace – all in the context of integration. 

This year, we established the UAS Integration Office in our safety organization to offer one stop shopping for matters related to civil and public use of unmanned aircraft systems in U.S. airspace.  This office will develop a comprehensive plan to integrate unmanned aircraft systems and establish operational and certification requirements.  It will also oversee and coordinate research and development of unmanned systems.  

This new office has a lot of work underway already.   They’re working on the solicitation of proposals for the six test sites.  And the FAA just received the first application for a type certificate for a commercial unmanned aircraft. 

Overall at the FAA, safety remains our cornerstone. It’s our primary focus and foundation.  We have the biggest and safest aviation system in the world, and we want to make it even safer and smarter.  And, we must continue to serve as a model for other aviation authorities around the world. 

We are moving from a system of accident investigation and forensic study to a proactive analysis of data.  This helps us to understand what might happen in order to make changes to address safety risks that might exist anywhere in the system.  We want operators to establish Safety Management Systems – this proactively helps 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.

This is all in the context of tight budgets.  We all know that these are lean financial times, and we expect that our funding will remain flat for the foreseeable future.  The FAA’s FY 13 budget request is for $15.2 billion, and we see this as a sound investment in support of our mission.  It would allow us to maintain appropriate staffing for air traffic control and for aviation safety, as well as for research and development, with capital investment in both airport infrastructure and FAA facilities and equipment. 

The success of all these programs and goals, of course, rests on our workforce of today and of the future.  And, ultimately, it rests on the effective collaboration between government and industry – between the FAA, ALPA, and other industry groups. 

And, what about the FAA itself?  I’ve heard the question from many of you through these transformational times: What is my vision for the agency? 

First, we must embrace the fundamental technological change that is unfolding before our eyes.  NextGen truly is a revolutionary change, and it moves us from the aviation technology that was first developed in the 1950s, to that of the future. 

Second, I want to promote a shared responsibility for safety oversight.  Both industry and government are responsible for ensuring that safety measures are fully met. 

Third, we will face major changes in our workforce in the coming years.  About one third of FAA employees will be eligible to retire starting in 2014.  So for us, succession planning remains a crucial aspect of the agency’s focus, and we must realize that we will begin to lose a vast amount of corporate knowledge in the coming years.  To prepare for that, we must impart this knowledge to today’s emerging leaders and experts to ensure a successful agency in the
21st century.  I want to encourage my FAA team to embrace innovation and to work efficiently. 

We must move forward with full force,and in tandem with one another – government and industry.  It’s not just the FAA, but it is other government agencies, and all aspects of industry, from airlines to association groups to unions.  What we need to do is embrace the opportunity to make long-lasting changes together.  The decisions we all make in coming years will shape our industry for decades to come.

Thank you, again, for inviting me to speak here today.  I look forward to our future collaboration. 

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