"Global Aviation: Safer, More Efficient and Greener"
Michael Huerta, Washington, DC
May 2, 2014

International Aviation Club

Thanks Jerry [Murphy].  I’m happy to be here.  2014 marks the 100th year since the dawn of commercial flight.  We’ve seen great advancements – the jet age … the jumbo jet … and non-stop routes across the globe.  Since its first flight, commercial aviation has carried over 65 billion passengers.  We can only imagine what the next 100 years will bring. 

Today, as we stand between the past and future, we have an opportunity, in this moment, to leave our mark on global aviation.  The FAA is committed to making it safer, more efficient and greener.  The FAA is doing many things to make it happen.  And we look to you in industry to do your part and work with us so we can deliver greater benefits throughout the world. 

And that’s exactly where our focus needs to be – on the world.  This industry is increasingly becoming more globalized.  International traffic is on the rise.  We see more international partnering of manufacturers and suppliers.  Airline route structures, alliances and partnerships are spanning the globe.  We understand the need to take a global perspective on aviation issues.  It’s more pressing now than ever. 

To respond to this need, the FAA has set a strategic priority to enhance our global leadership.  We’re committed to increasing global safety, efficiency, and environmental sustainability.

These are the three areas I’d like to focus on today.  I’ll discuss the efforts and progress we’re making both here at home and around the world. 

Let me start with what we’re doing to make aviation safer and smarter – which is our top priority.  It wasn’t that long ago that our approach to safety was to understand why an accident happened.  And with that approach, we’ve driven down the rate of commercial airline accidents to an exceedingly low level.  That’s a credit to government and industry working together.  But we know there are still safety risks within our global aerospace system.  And no matter how great the record is, none of us should be satisfied.  We have to build on it. 

Our focus is on identifying and mitigating safety risk before an accident has a chance to occur.  Building off already well-established safety efforts at the FAA, we’ll continue to tap the wealth of safety data now available from voluntary safety reports by air traffic controllers, technicians and aviation industry professionals.  We also have automated air traffic data gathering tools and we have safety data exchange partnerships with industry.  Through these data sources, we will identify areas of highest risk … and then redirect and prioritize our safety efforts toward these areas.   

With this approach, the FAA will evolve to a safety oversight model where we prioritize our safety inspection efforts.  We’ll have the decision tools to consider stopping certain oversight activities for known system operators that have strong safety management systems of their own.  This way, we can achieve compliance more efficiently. 

And we’re promoting these risk-based safety efforts globally.  For instance, through ICAO, the FAA is involved in a regional group that coordinates aviation safety efforts across North, Central, and South America, as well as the Caribbean.  One of the group’s main goals is to address accident risks.  This team uses a data-informed, risk-based approach to address four key areas: runway excursions, controlled flight into terrain, loss of aircraft control and mid-air collisions.  When safety enhancements are implemented, the group will use data again to measure the success.   

We also want to measure success from modernizing our infrastructure.  This includes delivering on prioritized NextGen benefits, which of course, benefits all equipped and capable operators that fly through U.S. airspace. 

We have been working for several years to upgrade the foundational programs that we need to transition our airspace from a system of ground based navigational aids to a satellite based system that shares more precise information with more users.  We’re nearing the completion of these very important programs that are foundational to NextGen.  This includes upgrading the automation capabilities in our en route and key terminal service facilities by next year.

Right now, 18 of our 20 en route centers have started running the new En Route Automation Modernization.  And 15 of those 18 are using it exclusively to control air traffic, instead of the legacy system of the 1960s.  We expect that all 20 centers will be running exclusively on ERAM by March of next year, which will allow us to retire the legacy HOST system.

We’re also upgrading the computer system that runs the lower altitude airspace closer to airports.  This project – Terminal Automation Modernization and Replacement, or TAMR, is implementing a common automation platform at over 150 terminal facilities throughout the country.  These upgrades are essential for us to really unleash the benefits of NextGen.

Why is this important?  Our legacy automation was limited by its processing speed and many air traffic facilities could only accept a limited number of radar inputs.  In the terminal environment, some facilities only receive input from the one radar that sits at that airport.  Trying to run NextGen on this legacy platform would be like trying to connect to the internet using a 20-year-old laptop with dial-up.

But with ERAM and TAMR completed, we can process more data, more efficiently, from more sensors.  This includes processing multiple radar inputs and a key NextGen technology known as Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast.    

ADS-B, this enables us to track aircraft much more precisely than by using radar.  We can also track aircraft in places where radar can’t go, including in the mountains and over water.  I’m proud to say the FAA completed the baseline installation of our ADS-B ground infrastructure this past March.  This is a big accomplishment.  More than a hundred facilities are currently using the technology to separate traffic.  When it’s fully implemented, and all operators are equipped, we’ll be able to make even more efficient use of our nation’s airspace. 

To achieve global harmonization, we’ve worked with our European, Canadian and Australian partners on standards for ADS-B.  And we’re seeing that many countries including Iceland, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan and others are adopting ADS-B technology.  This helps to drive the equipage of ADS-B avionics globally. 

We all have the same goal, which is a seamless global airspace with interoperable systems.       

The benefits of ADS-B are many.  In airspace over the Pacific, we’re partnering with United Airlines to document the fuel saving benefits of ADS-B In, which enables pilots to see traffic and weather information in the cockpit.  The trial is taking place over oceanic airspace controlled by Oakland en route center.  United has equipped 12 of their 747’s with ADS-B In, which the FAA supported and certified.  With ADS-B In, these pilots can see 200 miles in all directions, as compared to only about 40 miles ahead without it.  By knowing the location of nearby aircraft, the pilots can safely request climbs into more fuel efficient cruise altitude more often.  As part of the trial, United has been requesting about 12 of these procedures a month.  They are seeing a savings of about 500 pounds … or 71 gallons … of fuel on each flight.  This translates into a savings of about 1500 pounds of carbon emissions. 

This is pretty significant.  And we need to ramp it up.  We should be using these procedures more than a dozen times a month on these international long hauls. We ask you to work with us so we can accelerate these kinds of benefits.  It benefits all of us.     

In 2016, we plan to expand this ADS-B In capability to oceanic airspace controlled by New York and Anchorage Centers.  U.S. bound flights over the Pacific and the Atlantic that are equipped with ADS-B In will be able to take advantage of these fuel saving procedures.  This spring, we expect that ICAO will officially approve this procedure, which should encourage greater interest in using this technology.     

Just as we are seeing the benefits of NextGen over the Pacific, we are also seeing it in our control towers. We are conducting a trial of Data Communications at Newark and Memphis airports.  Data Comm allows controllers and pilots to communicate by sending and receiving digital data instructions, in addition to voice communications.  With this capability, we are able to increase overall efficiency, reduce congestion on the airwaves, and reduce the likelihood of communication errors that can occur from voice exchange. 

Right now, we are testing Data Comm’s departure clearance capability. Our airline partners include United, FedEx, UPS, British Airways, Lufthansa, and Scandinavian Airlines. They’re seeing the benefits, including faster taxi out times, reduced delays, and reduced pilot and controller workload.  We’re in the process of documenting these benefits, as well as lessons learned, as we prepare for testing at additional towers in Houston and Salt Lake City next spring. 

I think some of you are saying, “What … more testing?”  We recognize that we have to go beyond testing.  We have a plan that gets us to deployment.  And we’re delivering on that plan.  We’re on target to start regular operations of Data Comm in equipped control towers beginning in 2016 and in en route control centers in 2019.  We’re in this for the long term and we will partner with you for the long term.   

A good example of our commitment to international collaboration is how we worked to standardize data communications.  The FAA and SESAR have agreed on the final destination for data communications, and together we are working to meet that mutual goal.  We have provided the additional material and engagement that RTCA and EUROCAE (Euro-Kay) need to move to a final standard next year.  Understanding that this standard is just the first step to these advanced data communications capabilities, the FAA is committed to maintaining this cooperation throughout development and deployment to assure that implementation challenges are addressed together across the Atlantic.          

NextGen means greater efficiency … it paves the way for greater interoperability … and it also makes aviation greener.  We are promoting a greener aviation system, both here at home and across the world through a combination of air traffic management innovation … fostering new aircraft technology … and developing sustainable alternative fuels. 

In air traffic, we have an Asia and Pacific Initiative to Reduce Emissions.  We call it ASPIRE.  Through this effort, we’re working with international partners, both air navigation service providers and airlines, to promote fuel saving procedures available on daily flights across the Pacific Ocean.  Since ASPIRE started in 2008, we’ve identified 19 city pairs, like Los Angeles-Singapore and Sydney-San Francisco, where we can apply a minimum of three fuel saving procedures on these flight operations.  These procedures include user preferred routings – which are customized profiles that meet the specific needs of the operator. 

We continue to work with our partners to identify new city pairs and to develop modeling and metrics to measure these benefits.  On this note, I’d like to call on our air carriers, both domestic and international, to work with us to come up with a way to share information about these benefits.  This includes sharing any performance data from these ASPIRE flights that will illustrate the fuel-saving benefits so that more users will take advantage.

The FAA is also taking steps to promote quieter and cleaner aircraft.  We set up the Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions and Noise program.  We call it CLEEN, and it’s a joint effort with industry to share the costs required to advance alternative fuels … and mature more efficient and quieter airframe and engine technologies to speed their entry into the fleet.  We’re also supporting the work of ICAO in various environmental areas including the development of a new aircraft standard for CO2 emissions and a proposal for a Global Market Based Measure for international aviation.

The things I mentioned today are just a few of the many things the FAA is doing to make aviation safer … more efficient … and greener, both in the U.S. and around the world.  These efforts are important.  Consider that while it took one hundred years for commercial aviation to carry its first 65 billion passengers … it’s been forecast that this industry will carry its next 65 billion passengers in the next 15 to 20 years.        

The success of commercial aviation over the past century has been largely due to the exponential growth and innovation of technology.  Today, success will be a function of how we collaborate.  We can achieve our collective goals more rapidly when we collaborate and leverage each other’s efforts globally.  

One hundred years from now, our successors will celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of commercial aviation.  The aviation system they will have … and the benefits they will enjoy … will be shaped by the decisions and choices we make today.  By working together, as an aviation community, we can give them something we can all be proud of.