"Aviation Ties in the Western Hemisphere"
Michael Huerta, Miami, Florida
December 4, 2012

Latin America & Caribbean Aviation Summit

Thank you, Nathan (Younge), for that introduction. I am pleased to be here today, and to see so many of my colleagues from industry and government alike.

I would first like to say a heartfelt thank you to both the U.S. Trade and Development Agency for organizing this event, and to the American Association of Airport Executives for coordinating this week’s meetings.

As we approach International Civil Aviation Day this Friday, I find it very gratifying how far aviation has come over the past several decades. Safety has made tremendous strides. New aircraft are smarter and more energy efficient. Updated technologies are transforming the way we manage air traffic. And, best of all, aviation has connected the far reaches of the world.

And these accomplishments can be seen right here in the Western Hemisphere. We now enjoy expanded aviation networks throughout the Americas that link us to one another, and to other parts of the world. Air traffic in Latin America, in particular, has grown at a healthy rate over the last several years, outpacing growth in any other region on the globe. This healthy growth rate is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

Multilateral efforts in the Western Hemisphere have helped pave the way for this progress. For example, the Latin American Civil Aviation Commission (LACAC) has been influential in harmonizing aviation within the region, and in coordinating civil aviation policy. And, I am pleased that the Commission and the FAA signed a Memorandum of Understanding last year to establish closer cooperation in the fields of aviation safety, environmental protection, and air navigation services. In fact, earlier this year, LACAC and the FAA co-hosted a General Aviation Safety Seminar held in Panama. These are exactly the kind of collaborative efforts that we need to promote in order to move aviation forward. I congratulate LACAC and other similar groups on these accomplishments.

And, of course, the growth in aviation could not have been possible without a strong foundation in safety. It is aviation’s first and foremost pillar. It is our main priority at the FAA. And, we all face the challenge of how to accommodate growth, while always enhancing safety.

Thanks to the efforts of ICAO’s Regional Aviation Safety Group – Pan America (RASG-PA), safety harmonization and coordination is reaching a new level in all areas of the Western Hemisphere. A year ago, an historic agreement between the Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST) and the Pan-American safety group solidified this effort, allowing for the exchange of de-identified safety information. Several Member States now exchange data in the Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS) program, a first step in worldwide information sharing agreed upon at the last ICAO High-Level Safety Conference. It’s a proactive and data-driven approach to uncover potential safety issues and take action to mitigate risks that might exist in the aviation system.

Safety is not a competitive business. Sharing information that could potentially affect the safety of flight in any country is absolutely essential.

Of course, we can enhance safety by changing the way we handle air traffic control and taking advantage of new technology. In the United States, we are transforming the way we manage air traffic through NextGen. We are evolving from ground-based radar to a satellite-based system of tomorrow. This will help us move more air traffic efficiently, while reducing flight times and reducing emissions.

This upgrade to satellite-based technology is happening around the globe. At the ICAO Air Navigation Conference in Montreal last month, many countries agreed that we need to build on recommendations to harmonize and advance air traffic management globally. The global modernization plans put forth by ICAO provide a framework for countries to improve the capacity of their air traffic systems. And, there is flexibility in implementation, as each country’s aviation system is unique in size, in need, and in capability.

With our tremendous growth in air traffic across the globe, we must make these upgrades and modernize our system. If we don’t, the price we will pay in lost efficiency and economic productivity will outweigh the cost of the upgrades and changes. Now, we all want to benefit from the advantages of a robust aviation system. We don’t want any country or region to be passed over for a new route or new airport because of equipment that is no longer compatible or usable with the rest of the world.

Each of our countries has a unique transportation system. However, we share the common path of continuously improving aviation. And, this is where the regional approach is so useful. As we have seen with the growth in regional safety data sharing – we can make the necessary changes and upgrades to our air traffic system through the important regional planning groups. This will allow us all to share resources, ideas, and processes that will benefit everyone in the region.

Another example of recent collaboration is in the Gulf of Mexico. This year, the Mexican Government and the FAA began working together to deploy ADS-B ground stations in Mexico. This new satellite-based surveillance system will help to improve safety and efficiency. The expanded coverage of ADS-B will greatly reduce the required nautical mile separation over the Gulf.

We estimate that the deployment of this equipment will lead to nearly $70 million in savings as a result of greater throughput. This is a case where the savings we will gain by moving forward far outweigh the costs associated with implementation. These are the cooperative efforts from which we can all benefit. And, the United States seeks to partner more with other countries and regions as we all develop new technologies. These systems must be interoperable, even as we maintain technological independence in our own countries.

Of course, all of our growth and upgrades must be done in the context of responsible environmental policies. We owe it to one another, and to future generations, to ensure that expanding and changing our system does not negatively impact the natural environment. We need to continue to research and develop alternative fuels. The way of the future is to invest in equipment and aircraft that create more efficient routes and fewer emissions.

Collaboration with each other is the key to success on these tough environmental issues. Since 2006, the FAA has worked with other governments, regional groups, and industry partners to research, develop, and deploy alternative jet fuels through the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative, or CAAFI. In fact, there are countries here today that are active participants in CAAFI. And, there are countries that have made great strides in developing, producing, and using alternative fuels in other modes of transportation. We can all learn from this work. Efforts to create a sustainable, alternative jet fuel, as well as development of new aircraft bodies and more efficient engines, will protect the environment for generations to come.

 And, as we seek to ensure aviation is sustainable, it is vital we all work together through ICAO to find practical and collaborative solutions. We are encouraged by the recent decision at ICAO to establish a high-level political group to provide recommendations to ICAO’s next Assembly on how to address aviation’s greenhouse gas emissions. We are also pleased with the EU decision to suspend application of their emissions trading system on foreign airlines for a year.

 As we celebrate the inherent international connection in aviation, let us take a moment to acknowledge the tremendous accomplishments we have seen in flight throughout the world. And, by agreeing to move forward collaboratively, we will continue to see growth and expansion not only here in the Americas, but across the globe, linking us all even closer together.

Thank you.