"Remarks to NBAA 2015"
Michael Huerta, Las Vegas, NV
November 17, 2015

NBAA 2015


One of the best parts of my job is getting to travel the country and visit people like all of you. You may say you’re here because it’s your business. But I suspect for many of you, this is your business because flying is your passion.

Think about it: When you were a kid, did you ever imagine that you’d be where you are today, getting paid to be around airplanes and people who love them? We are truly fortunate, and I don’t think we can remind ourselves of this too often.

Like many of you, my fascination with flying started with my nose pressed against a chain link fence. My newspaper delivery route in my hometown in Southern California took me past the local airport, and I loved to stop and watch the takeoffs and landings.

Now, I always meant to get the paper delivered on time, but more than a few times my customers on the other side of the airport were wondering where the paper boy was. I had airplanes to watch.

It occurs to me as I look out on the audience that if anyone has any doubts about the strength of Business Aviation, all they would have to do is come to Las Vegas. You’ve filled all three halls of the convention center, and so many beautiful jets are on the ramp at Henderson that the locals must be wondering whether there’s a title bout this weekend.

It’s encouraging to see this segment of the aviation industry recovering economically after some rough years. A few months ago, I had a chance to visit a couple of manufacturers in Wichita, Kansas, where some amazing techniques and materials are being used to build the next generation of airplanes. It’s a testament to ingenuity and dedication that manufacturers have continued to innovate, making their aircraft not only more functional and comfortable, but safer as well.

While safety might be the FAA’s mandate, it is far from unilateral. The responsibility for our record of safety and consistency is shared by everyone who works in aviation – from manufacturer to mechanic, and from pilot to executive.

A day doesn’t go by that I don’t talk about collaboration, between the FAA and other agencies, with industry, with other countries – and perhaps most important of all, with the people here in this room who make aviation a daily part of their lives and livelihoods.

I recently spoke at the Aero Club of Washington, where I said that part of this industry’s DNA is a willingness to consider and embrace new ideas. We owe our present to those who came before us. They took a dream as old as humanity – of defying gravity, if only temporarily – and made it a daily reality.

They bestowed on us a responsibility to keep moving forward, to use aviation as a tool to make the world a better place – and to never let up in our quest to make flying safer and more efficient. I think our record speaks for itself. Aviation has never been safer.

But rather than congratulating ourselves, I have challenged the men and women of the FAA to reach into that same DNA to embrace new ways of thinking. I believe this is something that will be required as we continue to participate in the rapid changes occurring across the aviation landscape.

You are going to see this more nimble approach from the FAA in virtually every aspect of your dealings with us. We understand that in an industry where our customers have the ability to zip across the country at speeds of 500 knots or more, the FAA must respond in a timely manner while always keeping safety as our No. 1 priority.

As you know, the FAA is well into the rollout of NextGen, the wholesale modernization of the air traffic control system. Our critics – and, in some cases, our partners – have criticized the agency for moving too slowly. To some degree, this has been true in the past. But we’ve also been very intentional about getting it right.

I am happy to report to that we’ve made more progress than you might realize. Modern, GPS-based procedures now outnumber the old ground-based procedures. In major metropolitan areas around the country – including North Texas, Houston, and the Washington, D.C., area, just to name a few – we flipped the switch on hundreds of performance-based arrivals and departures.

System-wide, we’ve measured $1.6 billion in benefits to airlines and the traveling public from the NextGen capabilities we have already enabled. In the next 15 years, we estimate these changes alone will produce an additional $11.4 billion in benefits.

I’ll give you an example of how NextGen is affecting Business Aviation. When the FAA was looking for a partner to explore the potential benefits of data sharing and the future possibilities of NextGen, we were pleased when NetJets came to us with the idea of mining our NextGen data and taking on the analysis to help adjust their operations for greater efficiency.

In return, we get the results of those adjustments, plus feedback from the company’s fleet of 600-plus aircraft as they operate in the airspace every day. We have used some of this congestion data to mitigate traffic jams at smaller fields that cater to NBAA members.

Very soon, you will see additional improvements, such as takeoff and taxi clearances being delivered to the cockpit via text messaging. We’re calling it Data Comm, and it promises to ease congestion on our frequencies and reduce the potential for misunderstanding critical safety information. We have already deployed Data Comm in Newark, Memphis, Houston and Salt Lake City.

We’re on track to deliver Data Comm to more than 50 air traffic control towers and TRACONs in 2016, and we expect it will be in our large en route centers in 2019. It’s exciting stuff, and it’s going to make us all safer and more efficient.

It’s difficult to go more than five minutes inside the FAA anymore without somebody mentioning small, unmanned aircraft.

In fact, I think I just proved that point. It’s a subject that’s been on my mind lately.

Even a casual observer could look at the headlines in recent months and conclude that unmanned aircraft have become almost the definition of “disruptive technology.”  It’s our mission to make sure the disruption is the desirable type – in the sense that these small aircraft have tremendous potential for improving the way whole segments of the country do business.

Already, we are working with companies such as BNSF Railway in our Pathfinder research project to explore how unmanned aircraft can be used for such tasks as conducting aerial safety surveys of miles of railway lines through the most remote parts of the country. Meanwhile, insurance companies, real estate companies and local governments are putting unmanned aircraft to work in ways that previously were barely imaginable.

At the same time, we have seen a significant increase in reports from pilots who have reported unmanned aircraft flying in their vicinity. A number of these sightings have occurred on final approach to major airports, so close that controllers have been able to see the smaller aircraft from the airport control tower.

But we’ve also had a surprising number of sightings at altitudes of 5,000 and even 10,000 feet. In some cases, unmanned aircraft have interfered with emergency operations such as fighting wildfires or rescuing flood victims.

This is a troubling trend for us, for you and for the unmanned aircraft industry, particularly when one considers an estimated 700,000 new unmanned aircraft will be sold during the coming holiday season. Operators with little or no aviation experience will be at the controls of many of these aircraft. Many of these new aviators may not even be aware that their activities could be dangerous to other aircraft – or that they should even be considered aviators at all.

We are aggressively addressing this issue through a combination of education, outreach and, when necessary, enforcement.

We also are busy working on an unmanned aircraft registration system. A task force met two weeks ago to help determine what this system will look like. I expect the group to deliver its recommendations to me later this week.

In addition to promoting a sense of accountability among operators, we hope registration will instill a sense of responsibility and prompt owners to become more educated about safe flying. We believe a streamlined and easy registration process will also make it easier to find people who ignore the rules and operate unsafely.

I look forward to sharing more information with you and the public as we continue this important task of safely and quickly integrating these aircraft into our airspace.

I mentioned a couple of minutes ago about my experiences as a youngster and when I caught the aviation bug. I think these stories are important, and we should all share them as often as possible. We must continue to inspire young people – and young women, in particular – to pursue careers in aviation.

I want to leave you with a story about a girl named Katie, whose father is a pilot. She loved aviation as a child. She was one of the kids with her nose pressed to the chain link fence. All she could talk about was becoming a pilot.

But, as it happens so often to all of us, the realities and pressures of life intervened, and she took what she thought was the safe path. She decided to become a teacher, which is a noble calling. But it wasn’t her dream.

I’m happy to say the story doesn’t end there. At age 28, she listened to her heart and left the classroom to become a different kind of example to the third-graders she was teaching. She applied to the U.S. Air Force Academy and was accepted.

Over the next couple of years, friends and relatives rejoiced with her as she posted photos on her Facebook page, marking each milestone as she progressed from initial flight training to more and more complex aircraft.

One of her most recent photos is of her standing with a crewmate in front of her new ride, A KC-135 tanker. Her smile is something to behold.

It’s something that should be replicated in as many communities as possible across this great nation. I urge you to share your stories, to take the time to foster our young people’s dreams.

This is Las Vegas, and very few things that can ever be called a truly safe bet. But, from what I see here in the halls today, and the fleet of aircraft on display at the airport, I am certain that aviation continues to have a bright future.

Once again, thanks to the NBAA – and to all of you – for all you do for aviation. I wish you all the best of success at this year’s convention.

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