"The Safety and Success of GA"
Michael Huerta, Arlington, VA
November 13, 2012

NATA – Aviation Business Roundtable


Thank you very much, Tom [Hendricks, NATA President and CEO]. It’s good to be here. I want to thank you for your work as subcommittee co-chair on the NextGen Advisory Committee. I also want to congratulate you on your position here at the NATA. You bring a tremendous passion for aviation … a wealth of experience … and a strong sense of community, and I know that NATA will benefit from your leadership.   

General aviation is very illustrative of the values we hold as Americans: freedom, initiative and innovation. The GA industry bridges the vast network of 3,000 general aviation airports across this country. You fly into complex aviation centers in metropolitan areas and small landing strips in rural communities, where you bring needed jobs and air service. You fly tourists to their destinations, and provide emergency rescue to communities.

GA allows companies to serve their customers and maintain their products more quickly, in order to stay ahead of the competition.

General aviation is a lifeline for so many facets of American life.  And it’s critical to the health and economic prosperity of the U.S. as a whole.

This segment employs close to 1.3 million people and contributes more than $150 billion to the U.S. economy, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association.  

And general aviation contributes to our nation’s positive trade balance as well.  GAMA estimates that its U.S. members generated $4.3 billion in new airplane export revenue last year.

We know that the aviation industry is cyclical.  And we have seen some signs of improvement.  Business jet flight hours are up 18 percent today compared to the low point that we all remember in 2009.   

The NetJets order this summer for Bombardier and Cessna aircraft was one of the largest private aircraft orders ever.

And as the economy improves, we can only expect that demand for business and general aviation will increase, and I know that’s important to many of the businesses represented in this room.

The FAA is committed to enabling the safety and success of general aviation.  Today, I’d like to discuss three topics – the FAA’s efforts to raise the bar on safety … our implementation of NextGen and the benefits for GA … and the transition away from leaded AvGas.   

Let me start with safety, as it’s the most important mission for everyone here.   I am proud to say that we have the safest aviation system in the world.  And the FAA is committed to achieving an even safer and smarter aviation system.  But with a system that is so very safe – how do you raise the bar on safety?  

Well, we’re focused on identifying and mitigating safety risk.  We do that by focusing on data.  By collecting and analyzing data including flight data … pilot reports … and reports by controllers … we can identify trends and precursors to incidents and accidents … all with the goal of decreasing hazards in the aviation system.

The FAA’s voluntary reporting systems are a critical tool to help us identify where we have emerging risks in the system.

We have a program for our air traffic workforce, called the Air Traffic Safety Action Program, or ATSAP.  Employees can openly report unintentional errors and safety-related information.  The goal is not to impose discipline.  We want to know the root causes of safety problems and we want to correct them.  

ATSAP has been a huge success for the FAA.  Every week, we’re receiving some 300 new reports, and event review committees determine the items that are the highest priority.  We’re making an average of three substantial changes every month to eliminate hazards in the system.

Another reporting effort in the industry that many of you are acquainted with is the Aviation Safety Action Program, or ASAP. 

Like the program for controllers, ASAP permits individuals to report errors and safety-related information with reasonable protection from company discipline or FAA enforcement.

The result is terrific – an abundance of safety information that otherwise would probably not have come to light. 

Earlier this year, the Air Charter Safety Foundation received approval to start an ASAP program for part 135 air carriers.  This is an excellent step forward.  With an FAA member on the event review committees, we’re working with participating carriers to determine corrective actions to safety concerns that have been raised.

And we really want to encourage you to join the ASIAS program and share your data more broadly with each other and the FAA.  ASIAS stands for the Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing program. 

Tom [Hendricks], I know you were an active participant in the ASIAS Executive Board while you were at the Airlines for America, and you’ve always been very supportive of the program.      

As some of you may know, ASIAS connects 131 separate safety databases and information sources across the industry.  By participating, you will benefit from the combined insights of all flight departments, just as the commercial carriers benefit from the program.  In fact, just last week, the FAA, airlines and aviation labor unions announced a partnership with the National Transportation Safety Board to share safety information through ASIAS.  This sharing will help NTSB determine if an accident is a unique event or an indicator of where there might be risks in the system.

With the greater ability we have these days to collect, share and analyze data, we’re using it to support the FAA’s safety management systems.

A Safety Management System is a safety feedback loop. You identify the problem, you analyze it, and you come up with a solution. Then you train to the solution and check how you’re doing.  Within the FAA, we are already using SMS in the Air Traffic Organization, and we are going to extend it to other parts of the agency as well.

And let me add that safety management systems do not have to be large and complex.  They can be tailored to the operation that you have at hand.  If you can incorporate SMS into your operation, it really does help to improve safety.

So while safety is our most important priority, the FAA is also committed to ensuring greater access for general aviation as we transition to NextGen. 

NextGen 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.

Of course, we recognize we will have to work within whatever budget Congress eventually passes for the agency.

As you well know, we’re operating in a challenging budget environment.   

But the FAA remains committed to modernizing the airspace system as well as maintaining the equipment that makes our system run today.

For general aviation airports, NextGen is improving access during periods of low visibility, through the use of Area Navigation and Localizer Performance with Vertical Guidance approaches, or LPV, as we call it.  LPV approaches provide precision capabilities to many airports where previously it was not practical to use ground-based equipment.  Other than approach and runway lighting, LPV does not require radio navigation aids on the ground such as a localizer antenna for an Instrument Landing System.  These approaches improve safety and access, at a substantially lower cost than installing and maintaining an ILS.  The FAA has already published nearly 3,000 LPV approaches, including at 1290 airports that don’t have ILS.  The FAA continues to publish new LPV approaches, with the goal of having approaches at all qualified runway ends by about 2016. 

Also, through the FAA’s Metroplex initiative, we’re delivering benefits to the general aviation community in large metropolitan areas.  We’re designing new satellite-based procedures and separate flight paths for reliever airports in these busy metropolitan areas.  These paths allow pilots to bypass busy hubs and fly where they need to fly.   

When we deconflict the airspace in urban areas, this helps general aviation traffic, because it creates better access to GA airports.  And by developing new terminal arrival and departure procedures, we’re reducing the amount of pilot-controller communications.  This allows controllers time to better accommodate all system users, not just the commercial carriers.  And it reduces the risk of hearback/readback errors.

Under the Metroplex initiative, we’re making progress in Houston, North Texas, Atlanta, Charlotte, Central and South Florida, Northern and Southern California, and Washington, D.C. … with more cities to follow.

For example, as part of our work in the Atlanta metroplex, we’re designing new satellite-based procedures for Atlanta reliever airports with air traffic control towers, including DeKalb-Peachtree Airport.  In Florida, we’re doing to same thing to support airports like Orlando Executive and many others.

The old way of doing business was to improve air traffic control procedures at one airport, separate from the others.  But we’ve taken a different approach.  We’re looking at metro areas as a whole and bringing all of our stakeholders to the table – airports, airlines, business aviation, controllers and federal partners such as the Department of Defense.  We are working together to improve air traffic flow around all of the airports in a Metroplex. 

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

Lastly, I want to turn to another issue affecting the existing fleet of GA aircraft and that is the transition to a lead-free aviation gas.

We are working very hard to find a solution to the Avgas issue.  It affects the more than 160,000 existing aircraft in the United States that depend on 100 low lead fuel.

We have an entire infrastructure in place right now to service these aircraft and dispense fuel, and we recognize many of you are part of that infrastructure.  As you know, we formed an aviation rulemaking committee on AvGas.  I want to thank NATA for being part of that committee.

We sat down with all the interest groups and the committee developed a path to replacing the fuel. The committee’s report came out this year.  And we appreciate very much the hard work of everyone on the committee. We are considering all of the recommendations very carefully, and trying to develop a realistic and effective approach given the funding challenges we all face.  We had a very productive meeting about this at Oshkosh last summer.

To manage the transition to a new aviation gas, we’ve created the Fuels Program Office to serve as a focal point for this important effort.

Also, U.S. manufacturers are beginning to develop aircraft that will reduce the demand for leaded AvGas.  For example, Cessna is moving its new planes to diesel, which will use Jet A fuel.

As we transition our older GA fleet to a new type of fuel, we’re doing our best to make sure the transition has the least amount of impact as possible on aircraft owners and those who sell fuel at the airport.

This issue about fuel speaks to the FAA’s broader effort to encourage an aviation system that is sustainable and protects the environment.  We have a broad range of initiatives to support this goal including working with the industry to develop more efficient engines … to develop alternative sources of fuels – including aviation biofuels … and to establish more efficient air traffic procedures both on the airport surface and the ground, so that we end up with less fuel burn and emissions.

Whether we’re talking about reducing safety risks through sharing data … establishing Safety Management Systems … or NextGen … or AvGas, collaboration is the key to our success as an industry. The aviation industry has always been characterized by two things: innovation and change. And we know that we do our best when working in a partnership with all of the stakeholders.

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. 

General aviation embodies the pioneer spirit of America.  I look forward to working with all of you as we continue to reach that next level of safety, and to prepare our aviation system for the challenges ahead.

Thank you.

 

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