"Suppliers Are the Source of Innovation"
Michael Huerta, Washington, DC
September 24, 2012

AIA Fall Supplier Management Council


Good afternoon.  Thank you, David (Mandell).  I’m glad to be here. 

Last week, we got together to celebrate the extraordinary life of Neil Armstrong at the National Cathedral.  It’s estimated that 500 million people saw him set foot on the moon.  Whatever the exact number was, we’ll never know.  But what these people didn’t see were the hundreds of thousands of people who had a hand in making that moment possible, including engineers, manufacturers, chemists, software experts, camera designers, the people who made the space suits, and all the people who had a lot to do with every detail. 

The situation is similar at airports across the country today.  Passengers boarding planes might talk to a ticket agent, or the flight attendant, or in some instances might talk to the pilot.  But they don’t know about all of the people who in one form or another have a hand in creating the safest, most efficient airspace system in the world. 

The supply chain is a big part of what makes aviation so successful.  You make the engines, airframes, avionics and all other products.  You provide the services and other materials that keep this industry extraordinarily competitive and innovative … one of the most competitive in our economy.  At the FAA, we want to certify these products in a timely way, so they can improve our air transportation system.

Civil aviation is a great economic engine that supports 10 million U.S. jobs and contributes $1.3 trillion annually to our economy.  We all want to keep that engine running smoothly.

We expect airline passenger travel to nearly double in the next 20 years, and we expect growth in areas like unmanned aircraft systems.  By transforming our airspace system with NextGen technologies, we will safely and efficiently accommodate this growth while decreasing aviation’s impact on the environment.

Our NextGen program transitions us from equipment and procedures based on analog technology first developed in the 1950s, to an air transportation system that capitalizes on today’s cutting-edge digital and satellite-based technologies.  NextGen also enables more efficient communication between air traffic controllers and pilots and between different air traffic facilities across the nation. These improvements, taken together, mean that flights are shorter and more direct, and that aircraft burn less fuel and emit less carbon.   

Our latest estimates show that by 2020, NextGen improvements will reduce delays, in the air and on the ground, by 38 percent as compared to if we did nothing.  These delay reductions are estimated to result in $24 billion in cumulative benefits to aircraft operators, the traveling public and the FAA.

As suppliers, you play an important role in developing the products and systems that will make NextGen a reality. We depend on your expertise and your know-how to incorporate NextGen capabilities into the aircraft, control facilities and airports in our national airspace system.

We at the FAA have refocused the way we handle large programs to better implement NextGen.  We’ve stood up the Program Management Organization to effectively manage all of the moving parts, bringing together 125 capital acquisitions programs and their experts into one single organization. 

By placing these programs under one umbrella, we can do a better job of managing all the interdependencies between programs.  Sharing best practices and lessons learned will be faster and will help us usher these programs from the drawing board to live operation.

With NextGen, we not only need to get each individual piece right, we need to get the whole portfolio working together.    

This is one of the largest infrastructure projects in the country, and the President’s budget for 2013 requests more than $1 billion for NextGen – an increase of 11 percent over last year.

The entire FAA budget request for 2013 is $15.2 billion.  

Now I know that the sequester is an issue on everyone’s mind.

If the sequester were to occur, we would face some very drastic cuts in services and these investments.  These cuts would impact air traffic control services, NextGen implementation, and aircraft certification, all of which are critical to our ability to move forward with aviation in this century.  They would result in significantly less efficient and less convenient air travel service for the American traveling public.  We will always, however, maintain the highest levels of safety. 

Even as we face a challenging budget climate, the FAA is committed to modernizing the airspace system.  I’ve made it a priority to step up our collaboration with our stakeholders externally to increase the focus on NextGen and to bring benefits to the traveling public now.

The FAA has a long history of engaging with industry to develop consensus around policy, programs and regulatory decisions.

We value the advice we receive from the Joint Planning and Development Office, which handles interagency coordination and long-term planning for NextGen.  And we work with the experts at the Institute Management Council, which oversees the NextGen Institute. 

We have worked closely with industry partners, such as RTCA, and have incorporated important advice from that organization in our NextGen planning.  We’ve also established a broad-based panel – the NextGen Advisory Committee—to provide guidance and recommendations to us on how to equip for NextGen and how to measure our success.

And as always, we work with airlines that are enthusiastic about our pilot programs and help us to gain valuable NextGen data. 

I’d like to share a few examples of our partnerships for NextGen and the progress we are making around the country.

In Seattle, Washington, as part of the Greener Skies initiative, we are partnering with Alaska Airlines, the Port of Seattle and the Boeing Company.

We have created new NextGen approaches for airlines flying into Seattle Tacoma International Airport.  What’s great about these flight tracks is that they are shorter, more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly.  That’s a lot of hard work by all of our partners, and thanks to that, we reached a milestone this summer.  For the first time, Alaska Airlines is flying customers into SeaTac using these new satellite-based approaches.

In fact, these procedures will help all equipped airlines flying into SeaTac to significantly cut total fuel consumption annually, and thereby reduce carbon emissions and deliver other important benefits.

Across the country, we are tackling the problem of congested airspace over busy metropolitan areas around the country.

The old way of doing business was to improve air traffic procedures at one airport, separate from the others. But we’ve taken a different approach.  We are looking at metro areas as a whole and bringing all the stakeholders to the table, and there are a lot of them – airports, airlines, our air traffic controllers and federal agencies.  We are working together to improve air traffic flow around all of the airports in a metroplex.  We are creating new satellite-based direct routes that will relieve congestion and improve safety and efficiency.

By changing the way we approach the problem, we are improving our airspace in three years.  Under our old way of doing business, these changes would have taken five to 10 years.

We’re seeing great progress in Houston, Atlanta, Charlotte, California, north Texas and right here in metropolitan Washington, D.C.  And more regions will follow.

We also want to show additional benefits of NextGen surveillance using Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast or ADS-B. This technology is already working in the Gulf of Mexico and providing benefits to helicopter operators there.

We are working with JetBlue to conduct real-time operational evaluations and collect data on ADS-B benefits up and down the East Coast. 

The FAA paid for JetBlue to equip up to 35 of its A320 aircraft with ADS-B avionics. 

ADS-B will provide air traffic controllers with precise positioning of the aircraft by using GPS satellite signals, enabling the aircraft to fly more direct routes off the East Coast where ground-based radar coverage is unavailable. 

Field trials are scheduled to begin in the summer of 2013.  This agreement is beneficial to both the airline and the FAA and has the potential for industry-wide benefits.

Along with satellite-based navigation and surveillance, communication technology is also an important part of NextGen.

We have an initiative called NAS Voice System.  It’s a plan to upgrade our 30-year old voice switches with a modern and flexible operational voice capability.  This allows us to improve information exchange and efficiency between air traffic facilities.  If a control facility is experiencing a heavy workload, this new voice system will allow us to shift that workload to a different facility if necessary.  This kind of flexibility is absolutely crucial to safely integrating unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system.    

Just as we’re improving communication between air traffic facilities, we also want to make information exchange between controllers and pilots more efficient.  We’re doing that with Data Communications, where routine information such as pre-departure clearances can be relayed through text form, instead of voice.   

We expect to award a contract on Data Communications, specifically for the integration services, the air/ground network, and the management of an equipage incentive program for commercial operators.

This fall, we’ll begin trials to test the departure clearances for aircraft in text form … and the goal will be to verify and validate air and ground concepts of operations, requirements, training, and human factors. 

Our first trial site will be Memphis, where we’ll partner with FedEx.  Subsequently, we’ll work with United Airlines at Newark Liberty International … followed by a trial with Delta Air Lines at Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta. 

One of the benefits of Data Communications will be to improve traffic flow on the airport surface.  And in this area, we see enormous opportunity to reduce delays and inefficiencies.  Improving surface operations is a challenge, in part because of the many stakeholders involved including ramp personnel, airport authorities, airline operations centers, third party vendors, traffic flow managers and air traffic controllers. 

We plan to create more shared situational awareness among these parties.  With better coordination, we can reduce long taxi-out delays and airport gridlock.  This would mean that aircraft can burn less fuel, which saves money and protects the environment, and we can add greater predictability in departure times and subsequent arrival times. 

NextGen is improving the routes that aircraft fly, the communication we all rely upon and the way we handle traffic at our airports.  It’s is a better way of doing business for everyone.

The important thing is that this is a public-private partnership and the decisions we all make over the next several years are 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 components of the aviation industry work together innovatively and collaboratively as we lay the foundation for the future.  Aviation has always been about innovation and it has always been about collaboration.

With the right investments, the right management structure and a strong partnership with our suppliers we can prepare our aviation system for the challenges ahead.

Thank you.

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