"Aviation and Federal–State Partnerships"
Michael Huerta, Salt Lake City, Utah
September 10, 2012

National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO)


Thank you, Henry (Henry Ogrodzinski), for that introduction.  It is a pleasure to be here today.  And, congratulations, Debbie (Debbie Alke), on assuming the exciting and challenging role as NASAO chairperson. 

In Debbie’s state of Montana, as in many locations throughout the U.S., there are great things happening in aviation.  There’s the new airport in Hardin that will be completed in 2014, and then there’s the improvements in Missoula.  The FAA contributed $6.7 million to upgrades to the tower that replace older infrastructure and incorporate the latest equipment for air traffic controllers.  The dedication is set for later this month.  These and so many other projects would not have happened without the solid partnerships between all levels of government. 

It’s especially crucial for federal and state officials to share ideas and hear each other’s perspectives and thoughts.  Aviation thrives best when all parties work collaboratively toward a common goal.  And, the goal for all of us is safety and efficiency.  At the FAA, safety remains ourforemost priority and our foundation.

The FAA and NASAO have formally worked together on several important aviation issues since the signing of the first Memorandum of Understanding in 1996 by then-FAA Administrator David Hinson.  And we continue to collaborate on timely issues that concern us all, such as NextGen, wildlife hazards, and navigational aids, just to name a few.  This collaboration is a testament to the strength of our partnership.  I want to thank you for all the hard work on these issues.  It really helps us to align our work with what is best for all users of our aviation system.   

I’m often asked where I see the FAA going in the years to come.  I’ve asked FAA leadership 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.  I am proud to say that we have the safest aviation system in the world.  But we all know that we need to continue to raise the bar on safety. And the challenge is if you have a system that is so safe – we haven’t had a commercial aviation fatality in more than three and a half years – a system that is so very safe – how do you raise the bar on safety?  Well, the way you do that is you make the safety approach even smarter through the better use of data, so that we can forecast where there might be risk in the system and take steps to address that.  You also maximize the NAS infrastructure by making it more efficient.

Number two, is accelerating the benefits of new technology—and here I have really emphasized benefits for the public now.  NextGen is transforming our airspace with the help of many of these new technologies.  I’ll spend some more time on NextGen in a few moments.

And number three, is making sure that we empower FAA employees to embrace innovation, and to work efficiently.  As we do all of this, there is one core principle that we all need to think about in everything that we do.  We need to ask ourselves…how are the results that I am delivering through my work meaningful and tangible to the American people?  If we always remind ourselves who we serve and who our customers are – our fellow taxpayers and the traveling public – it helps guide us in the right direction.  That is something we can’t lose sight of.  And, the FAA cannot do this alone.  We need the assistance of our aviation stakeholders working together for a common cause.

We are at the cusp of big changes in aviation.  Our decisions in the coming years will affect our air transportation system for the next generation and beyond.  That’s why it is critical that the FAA and other federal agencies continue to work closely with state and local governments – and with industry—to lay the foundation for the future.

The budget, of course, is a big concern across the entire federal government.  These are lean financial times, but tight funding will not divert us from our primary mission of safety. 

Of course, my colleagues and I are very pleased that the reauthorization passed by Congress and signed by President Obama earlier this year has given us some stability and predictability.  For example, itgives us the authority to use money for airport construction projects.  It approves the funding of the Airport Improvement Program at approximately $3.4 billion dollars per year through 2015.  That’s good news for the FAA as well as for all of our airports. 

In the more immediate future, our FY 13 budget request is $15.2 billion.  It is a sound investment in safety and efficiency.  It would allow us to maintain appropriate staffing for crucial programs in air traffic control, aviation safety, research and development, and, of course, capital investment in airport infrastructure.  It also includes support for FAA facilities and equipment, and continued implementation of NextGen.

We all play a part – in all levels of government–in moving aviation forward.  As we all know, NextGen is at the forefront of this.  This revolutionary system will create more direct routes, fewer delays, and more predictability. We are moving from the ground-based system of the last century to the satellite-based air traffic system of the 21st century.

We know what we need to do, and we are very pleased that Congress, the aviation industry, and our state and local partners support these efforts. 

We’re already making progress on an important NextGen capability by moving toward greater reliance on data communications and changing how we communicate with airplanes.  Today there is a lot of voice interaction between a controller and a pilot.  Commands that – if you listen in on channel nine – controllers are giving to pilots. And that verbal interaction takes up a lot of time.  It takes a lot of effort.  But it also opens up the opportunity for error.

We are addressing these potential call and read back errors between controllers and pilots with a program called Data Comm.  It will transmit the instructions electronically in ways that save time and improve safety.   

And as we talk about current NextGen efforts, I’d also like to mention another partnership effort between the FAA, industry, and local government.  The Greener Skies Over Seattle initiative involves the FAA, the airlines, the Port of Seattle, and Boeing Corporation, and it will leave Seattle's skies greener.  It creates shorter routes, and saves time and fuel.  These are just some of the many NextGen benefits. 

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 reforming the way we do business.

General aviation is one of the largest recipients of NextGen benefits.  Satellite-based navigation, especially the GPS Wide Area Augmentation System, or WAAS, is increasing access to small airports across the United States.  We have published more than 2,700 WAAS-based LPV approaches – nearly twice as many as the number of ILS procedures nationwide.  This is satellite-based navigation at work. 

Many rural general aviation airports that are not suitable for ILS now have reliable, precision approach capability with WAAS-LPV.  This benefits all users, including the operators, airports, and ultimately, the communities they serve.  More than 25 percent of active general aviation aircraft have the avionics necessary to fly these approaches. 

And, there are benefits to general aviation in large metropolitan areas, as well.  When we deconflict the airspace in urban areas, this helps general aviation traffic, because it creates better access to GA airports.  We are designing new satellite-based procedures and separate flight tracks for reliever airports.  They allow GA pilots to bypass busy hubs, enjoy the skies, and fly where they need to fly.   

We work with a network of almost 3,000 general aviation airports ranging from small landing strips in rural communities to complex aviation centers in metropolitan areas.  And, in showing the value of this vast network, I am extremely pleased that in May we released a report called General Aviation Airports: A National Asset.  The report highlights the major aviation functions that GA airports support, from emergency response, to increased access for isolated communities, to tourism and special events.  This is all critical to the health and economic prosperity of the American people.  We did not create this report alone, though.  Input was provided by aviation stakeholders over a year and a half, including NASAO.   

I’d like to highlight just a few of these important GA airports.  For example, the Joplin Regional Airport in Missouri played a vital role in the recovery efforts after the large tornado ripped through the region in 2011.  Then there is the Westover Metropolitan Airport in Massachusetts that provides emergency medical flights to patients. 

In eastern California, the home to a Forest Service tanker base that responds to wildfires, there is the Eastern Sierra Regional Airport.  The airport in Van Nuys, just outside LA, serves as a bustling economic engine, and is home to more than 600 aircraft.  And, then there’s the Nashua Municipal Airport in New Hampshire, where we just dedicated a new reconstructed runway that will enhance safety and improve access.  As you can see, the GA airport system is broad and it is vast, and it is a lifeline for so many facets of American life. 

I am sure you will agree that this is an exciting time in aviation.  NextGen is transforming our airways and our airports.  It’s improving access to more airfields across our nation and expanding the benefits of civil aviation.  And, we all play a role in this. 

So, as we celebrate the successes and achievements bolstered not only by the collaboration of state and federal agencies, but also between government and industry, let us take this opportunity to reaffirm the need for these partnerships.  The future of aviation depends on our continued friendship.  Thank you. 

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