"The Road Ahead"
Michael Huerta, DOT Atrium, Washington DC
September 20, 2013

NextGen Institute


Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Pete [Dumont]. I want to thank the NextGen Institute for holding this meeting. The FAA continues to look to the Management Council to guide us as we chart the long-term course for NextGen.

Today’s meeting has been very productive. We’ve looked at NextGen’s successes, the lessons we’ve learned and upcoming challenges. We’ve heard from industry and labor. We’ve heard from local, state and federal officials. Everyone has spoken about what NextGen means for their customers or their constituents.

It’s clear. We all have a stake in NextGen – as an aviation community and as a nation. Now, it’s incumbent upon all of us to rally around NextGen.

Stakeholder engagement is essential to our efforts and so is fiscal certainty. As Deputy Secretary Porcari said, the FAA has already had to cut $637 million dollars in just the past five months because of the sequester. This fiscal uncertainty challenges our ability to make the investments that we need to support modernization. And unless we get a long-term fix, we could be facing the same situation all over again in ten days. This is not a sustainable course of action. It’s no way to run a business and it’s no way to run a government. 

The President has called on Congress to replace the sequester with a balanced approach that reduces the deficit while protecting critical priorities like funding for infrastructure. It’s critical for our country’s future that we get this done.

With fiscal certainty, we’re in a position to deliver NextGen’s benefits more widely and in a timelier manner. We’ve heard several examples of how NextGen is making a difference. And that’s only the beginning of a much longer list.

Because of NextGen, Jet Blue is estimating a savings of about 18 gallons of fuel per flight just by using a more efficient satellite-based approach into JFK airport.

And because of the satellite-based arrival procedures in place at Philadelphia International Airport, we can design the local airspace in a way that provides operational benefits on the departure side as well. Aircraft taking off on northbound departures are seeing a savings of about seven nautical miles per takeoff. And all departing aircraft are seeing a savings because we can reduce the separation between successive departures from three miles to about one mile. Together these improvements result in less taxi time and less fuel burned per flight.

And because of satellite-based navigation, we’re better able to deconflict arrival and departure paths at adjacent airports such as Henderson Executive Airport in Nevada and Las Vegas McCarran Airport, which is located just 13 miles away. Flights at these airports can operate simultaneously and remain safely separated. Also, flights at Henderson that use satellite-based routes are spending about 10 minutes less in the airspace, saving time and fuel.

And we were able to revise wake turbulence separation standards at Memphis Airport last fall. This means that aircraft can safely land and depart – one behind another – slightly closer than before. As a result, we’ve increased airport capacity by more than 20 percent. And FedEx is reporting a fuel savings of $1.8 million dollars per month.

Last week, new wake separation standards went into initial operations at Louisville International Airport. UPS is reporting a two-minute reduction in taxi time per flight. When other efficiencies are added in, we expect similar capacity gains like we’re seeing in Memphis.

As you can see, satellite-based navigation is yielding big gains. And there’s a lot more coming. We’re going to start tapping the benefits of satellite-based surveillance through ADS-B. ADS-B relies on GPS, as we all know, to determine an aircraft’s exact position. A radar sweep takes several seconds. ADS-B is instantaneous. This means we can more efficiently separate aircraft, while maintaining safety.

And we’re making progress with Data Communications. Data Comm will improve overall system efficiency, and reduce the likelihood of errors in voice communication. We’re currently testing the departure clearance capability in trials at Newark and Memphis airports. As part of the trials, we’re working with several airlines including FedEx, UPS, United, British Airways, and Lufthansa. At Memphis, the trials are now running 24/7 for all equipped aircraft. And in Newark, we’re conducting limited 24/7 operations. We look forward to seeing great benefits here as well.

To make aviation even less costly and greener, we recently announced the establishment of a Center of Excellence for alternate jet fuels and the environment. It’s going to be led by Washington State University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Center will help us work toward NextGen goals for noise, air quality, climate change and energy.

 On a larger scale, NextGen is redefining our airspace so we can enable the growth and changes that we expect to see in aviation. For instance, I know a lot of you have an interest in unmanned aircraft. The FAA is in the process of determining how we can safely integrate these vehicles into the airspace. We still need to address many issues. We need to train pilots. We need to make sure that an unmanned vehicle can sense and avoid other aircraft. And we have a role, in conjunction with other government agencies, to address the privacy concerns of the public.

 As we get answers to questions like these, we need to think about how to conduct the integration in a way that doesn’t reduce existing airspace capacity or impact current airspace operators.

Operational research is our next step. We’re in the process of selecting six host sites across the country to test the use of unmanned aircraft. There is robust interest. We have 25 candidates – all of them are public organizations across 24 different states. We expect to make selections by the end of this calendar year, and we plan to have the first test site operational within six months following the site selection announcements.

We’re also in the process of finalizing a roadmap for civil use of unmanned aircraft. The roadmap outlines the actions and considerations we need to take for successful integration.

On a global scale, the FAA is committed to working internationally to extend the benefits of NextGen across our borders. This includes working closely with Europe to harmonize our modernization efforts. We want a more seamless, efficient, and green global airspace system.

To make progress in these and other areas, the FAA relies on our partnerships with the aviation community. We continue to explore financial and operational incentives to encourage the equipage of NextGen avionics. We continue to benefit from the advice of the NextGen Institute and its Management Council. And we continue to take input from the NextGen Advisory Committee, or NAC as we call it.

In fact, yesterday, the NAC provided recommendations to us on how to best prioritize our NextGen activities … and about how we should move forward on our performance-based navigation and Metroplex initiatives. The NAC also provided input about how we can better track and measure NextGen’s fuel benefits. We’ll be reviewing their recommendations to determine our next steps.

In closing, the benefits we’ve discussed – they didn’t “just happen.” They happened because we decided ten years ago to make NextGen a priority. We decided to build a close collaboration with all of our stakeholders including labor, government and industry. And we decided to invest the money. And now we’re seeing positive results.

A lot of work remains to be done. Today’s meeting has been a big step forward. No one here wants to take a half step back. It’s time for us to rally around NextGen and keep these investments on track so we can deliver an airspace system that will serve us for decades to come.

Thank you for your commitment to NextGen and thank you for the meeting today.

###