"The Need for Financial Certainty"
Michael Huerta, Williamsburg, VA
May 23, 2013
AIA Board of Governors Meeting
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Thanks, Marion [Blakey]. Last fall when I spoke at your suppliers’ conference you had the “countdown to sequestration” clock. Our government set up that clock, with the belief that it would never count down to the very end. But here we are. You know better than most, the recent fix is just a Band-Aid. The FAA needs a long-term solution that will give us the financial certainty we need as we proceed with modernization.
Let me say plainly, the FAA remains committed to safely accelerating the benefits of technology into the public domain – including unmanned aircraft and NextGen. And if we j-u-s-t set aside this s-m-a-l-l issue of funding for a moment, we’re very well positioned to deliver on these commitments.
To begin with, we have a collaborative relationship with our unions.
We have industry cooperation through the NextGen Institute and its Management Council, as well as the NextGen Advisory Committee.
We have a structure and leadership in place that supports timelier implementation. We elevated the NextGen office to reflect that it’s a priority. And on June 3rd, our new Deputy Administrator, Michael Whitaker, will be joining us, and he will serve as our Chief NextGen Officer.
And through more integrated offices like the Program Management Organization and the UAS Integration Office, we’re able to better manage the necessary collaboration across the agency.
And again, just putting aside for a moment this l-i-t-t-l-e thing called “the sequester,” we have the full support of the DOT, the White House and the Congress for both NextGen and the safe integration of unmanned aircraft.
We’ve made great progress on both fronts. We’ve authorized government agencies to use unmanned aircraft for public purposes including border patrol, firefighting and disaster relief. We’ve issued special airworthiness certificates to companies like Raytheon, AAI corporation, General Atomics, Boeing and others, for the purposes of research, development, testing and training.
But as we proceed, we still need to address many issues including pilot training and making sure that an unmanned vehicle can sense and avoid other aircraft. Also, if it loses its link to the ground-based pilot, an unmanned aircraft still needs to operate safely. And we have a role, in conjunction with other government agencies, to address the privacy concerns of the public.
Operational research is our next step and in February, we issued a request for proposals to host six sites across the country to test the use of unmanned aircraft.
There’s a lot of interest – we have 25 candidates, all of them are public organizations across 24 different states. In choosing sites, we’re going to consider the geographic and climatic diversity and the location of ground infrastructure and research needs. And we plan to consult with NASA and the Department of Defense. We hope to make selections by the end of this calendar year, and our goal is to have the first test site operational within six months following the site announcements.
We’re also making great progress with NextGen. We’re moving from primarily ground-based to satellite-based operations and an air-ground communication system that relies on data exchange as well as voice. In doing so, flying will be more efficient and more environmentally friendly.
ADS-B means we’ll have more precise aircraft surveillance, and we can significantly reduce delays. We expect to complete the installation of about 700 ADS-B ground radio stations by early 2014.
The FAA is working with the airlines, the Port of Seattle, and Boeing Corporation on the Greener Skies over Seattle initiative. At Seattle-Tacoma airport, we added new satellite-based procedures, including the expanded use of Optimized Profile Descents, or OPDs. Alaska Airlines estimates that Greener Skies procedures will cut fuel consumption by 2.1 million gallons annually and reduce carbon emissions by 22,000 metric tons, which is the equivalent of taking 4,100 cars off the road every year. The OPDs are also quieter as aircraft descend at reduced power settings.
Our efforts in Seattle are providing a template for rolling out these benefits throughout the country, and they’re supporting our metroplex efforts, through which we’re making better use of congested airspace around the nation’s busiest metropolitan areas, further reducing fuel consumption and decreasing aviation’s carbon footprint on the environment.
For example, last August, flights approaching the Washington DC area started using satellite-based routes and immediately began saving fuel and emissions. For the airlines, these new routes will save $2.3 million in fuel costs in the first year of operation. We estimate that about 60,000 flights are using these new procedures into Dulles each year. At National, about 57,000 flights are flying the new routes each year.
As you know, we recently started work on Data Communications trials. Data Comm supplements today’s analog voice-only air-to-ground communications system with a digital message system. By sending and receiving digital instructions to and from pilots, we’ll be able to increase overall system efficiency, while reducing the likelihood of hearback and readback errors. We plan to start initial operations of Data Comm in equipped control towers beginning in 2016 and in all high-altitude control centers in 2019.
We have trials underway in Memphis and Newark that are coming along well, and we’re learning some important lessons, particularly as it relates to controller-pilot interoperability. These lessons alert us to the improvements we need to make before deployment.
These NextGen tools and procedures are changing the way we fly. By 2020, we’re projecting that NextGen will provide $38 billion in savings from NextGen. We also project a 41 percent reduction in delays compared to what would happen if we did nothing, a reduction of 16 million metric tons in carbon emissions, and a 1.6 billion gallon cumulative reduction of fuel use.
These benefits help make the case for NextGen. They help make the business case for why airspace users should equip with NextGen avionics – and as we all know that’s the other key piece of the puzzle. The FAA is working with several air carriers like Jet Blue, UPS, US Airways and others, to document the benefits of equipage. For instance, Jet Blue equipped 35 of its aircraft with ADS-B. Through an arrangement with them, the FAA will have access to data from flights off the East Coast where ADS-B Out will allow more efficient operations.
As part of another pilot program, the FAA approved avionics developed by ACSS to equip 20 US Airways Airbus A330 aircraft with ADS-B In, which we don’t mandate, but it provides pilots with a cockpit display showing the location of other aircraft. This enhances flight safety, and allows the equipped plane to take advantage of more advanced procedures that save time and fuel.
All of this is great news, and if we could just put the sequester aside, we’d be in great shape. But unfortunately, Congress hasn’t put it aside. They gave us the flexibility to cancel the employee furloughs for the remainder of the year, but the sequester continues, and we still have to cut $637 million. Yes, we were able to transfer $253 million from a source previously off limits – the airport grant program. But we still have to cut $384 million from other areas by September 30. This means we have to maintain cuts in areas like staffing, hiring, awards, contracts, training, and travel.
We’ve cut our spare parts inventory, which may increase restoration time during outages and reduce system efficiency. We may have to postpone technology and procedural deployments that were slated for completion this year. Components of our ADS-B trials with Jet Blue may be delayed. And our ability to train and certify people to maintain and operate new technologies is limited.
Looking ahead to FY2014, the budget situation is still very uncertain. Congress has taken care of this situation until the end of the fiscal year, but two more things have to be dealt with. First, unless the sequester is permanently fixed, it will last for ten years. Congress must cancel it and give us the funding certainty that will enable us to properly plan our future activities as an agency.
Second, we need an appropriations act for FY14. We’ve been running on a continuing resolution for FY13. Under this situation, it’s hard to have a thoughtful discussion about how to move forward. The President’s budget requests $15.6 billion for the FAA. This budget would support our critical safety programs, modernize our aviation infrastructure, and strike a balance between maintaining current infrastructure while deploying key NextGen programs to support the growth and changes in aviation. It does all this at funding levels that are $351 million lower than FY 2012.
But unless these two things are dealt with, we’re looking at a very uncertain fiscal environment.
In closing, I hope the sequester is resolved as quickly as possible. If it remains in effect, the FAA may be required to cut even more next year than we did this year. Because of the financial uncertainty, we can hope for the best, but we have to plan for the worst. This is not a sustainable course of action, and it’s no way to run a government.
 Published in the soon-to-be-released 2013 NextGen Implementation Plan. The NextGen Office is using these numbers now, and provided them for this speech.