"FAA Report"
Michael G. Whitaker, Atlanta, Georgia
February 25, 2016

NextGen Advisory Committee Meeting

My remarks will be relatively brief this morning. I’ll begin with an overview of the agenda, and then provide brief updates on the 2017 budget, reauthorization, and some of our UAS efforts around UAS integration.

You’ll have noticed by now that there are multiple agenda items related to PBN. I want to spend a few moments putting these into context. 

It was exactly a year ago, in this same room, we started a discussion on a long-term PBN strategy that would provide a clear vision of GPS-based navigation as the basis for daily operations in our national airspace and how do we get to that point. As a result of that conversation, we took our internal work to the PARC, the Performance-based Operations Aviation Rulemaking Committee, and one year later we have that strategy. It lays out a consensus view of where the aviation community as a whole wants to go through 2030. I’ll yield time at the end of my remarks to Josh Gustin and Mark Bradley to walk us through that really excellent work that they have been leading. 

Out of that work came a NAC tasking on PBN Time, Speed, and Spacing, which is intended to inform a 15-year plan for the deployment of traffic flow tools that will complement the PBN Strategy. Importantly, this will explore where those capabilities should reside – on the ground or in the air. That task has just kicked off and we’ll hear from the leads how they are approaching that work.

We’ll look at our progress on some near-term PBN work when we review the status of our current NextGen Priorities plan, which continues to be a fruitful collaboration. Richard mentioned that we completed 29 commitments in our first year of execution. I’m happy to add that we’ve completed 13 more since October. DataComm is now in use in Salt Lake City, New Orleans, Louisville, Newark, Austin and the two Houston airports, and is coming soon to a tower near you, including right here in Atlanta. We implemented wake recategorization in Denver, and we’ve increased efficiency during instrument conditions at seven airports, by reducing the standard spacing for dependent parallel operations.

You’ll hear more from the focus area leads on these accomplishments, as well as on their preliminary efforts to roll the plan forward with new commitments for 2018 and 2019.

As we talked about this morning, the NAS operates pretty well on blue sky days. It’s in off-nominal conditions where NextGen provides opportunity for improvement. Bart Roberts of Jet Blue will tell us today how a PBN procedure, coupled with an agreement with the local facility, made all the difference for his operations during a JFK runway closure.

The final PBN item is an update from the Community Outreach task group. PBN changes, especially new routes, are among the few parts of NextGen that the general public can actually see, and these changes have caught the attention of underlying communities in various parts of the country. At the last NAC meeting, we talked about the need to more fully engage communities before we implement procedures, and the FAA is committed to being smart and thoughtful about educating, involving, and getting input from residents – building on good past practices and using new techniques. The NAC touched on this subject in earlier recommendations, and will amplify those thoughts through this new task. I look forward to hearing the update from that group today.

We also have a few non-PBN agenda items:

We remain focused on ensuring that NextGen is harmonized with modernization efforts across the globe and so it’s important for us to understand how other programs are progressing. Florian and Frank will talk to us about the European ATM Master Plan. We look forward to hearing from them on that.

We’ll hear from the Joint Analysis Team. The NextGen Priorities were chosen by industry and the FAA because they were deemed to be of high benefit.  We will be looking to the expertise of the Joint Analysis Team to assess their impact. The team’s work is intended to help us collectively understand the data and methodology that the FAA and industry use to examine changes in operational performance and to support a common approach. I understand that the team has had some insightful conversations and I look forward to hearing more about that today.

We’ve already heard some about that today. The Equip 2020 working group is continuing to work through equipage challenges in order to ensure that everyone meets the January 1, 2020 mandate, and Bruce DeCleene will walk us through the current state of affairs in that effort.

As Richard mentioned it is important to have visibility into fleet plans for ADS-B equipage in order to make sure that we are ahead of the mandate and that we can continue to make this transition as seamless as possible.

I would like to thank Delta and American Airlines for their commitment to provide this information. We look forward to receiving their data as well as the data from other carriers very soon.

Bruce will then be joined by Michele Merkle for our final presentation of the day, which you’ll see titled “the NextGen Vision.” Earlier I mentioned our PBN strategy, which outlines the way ahead for navigation through 2030. We have a complementary product that does the same for the full scope of NextGen. Consider this an update to the 2011 NextGen Mid-Term Concept of Operations. It reaffirms the FAA’s commitment to providing enhanced service delivery in decades to come. It also lays the groundwork for further discussions here at the NAC and is a suitable topic to conclude today’s meeting. The success we’ve had working on our near-term priorities gives me great hope for the possibility of making joint commitments that take us far into the future. 

Now I’d like to turn to a few other items of perennial interest and just give you a brief update:

The President released his budget earlier this month for Fiscal Year 2017. The budget calls for $15.9 billion dollars for FAA, including approximately $1 billion for NextGen. 

This budget, if enacted, would restore us to the funding levels needed to ensure that we are able to execute the NextGen Priorities as we have discussed. However, since this request is above the two-year budget agreement, we may continue to experience budget uncertainty. Given that, we must remain flexible as we execute our current plan and establish new priorities for 2018 and 2019, and align those plans with budgets as actually passed.

I also want to briefly, and I emphasize briefly, address the FAA reauthorization bill. As you are aware, earlier this month the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee unveiled a proposal for how air traffic control services could be provided in the future.

There is broad acknowledgment that FAA reauthorization offers an opportunity to ensure that the U.S. continues to lead the world in aviation safety and efficiency. FAA reauthorization will impact a broad and diverse array of stakeholders, and we want to make sure they are all heard throughout this process, which has just begun. We encourage Congress to work in a bipartisan way, consistent with recent approaches on transportation issues.

We continue to believe that any proposal should support our core reauthorization principles. These principles include maintaining the safest aerospace system in the world, modernizing the FAA’s air traffic control system—including stable funding for air traffic control operations, NextGen, and the efficient recapitalization of aging facilities—and enabling the integration of new users into the NAS. Other principles include allowing better alignment of resources with the needs of the NAS and securing appropriate funding for the nation’s airports. These principles are intended to guide reauthorization to improve safety, make our airspace more efficient, and improve service for air travelers and other stakeholders.  

Finally, on UAS, as many of you may know, the FAA has been working hard to safely and effectively integrate UAS into our airspace.  This remains a significant challenge.

But, in December, we made great strides toward this goal by creating a web-based registration process for owners of small drones.

We are requiring the owners of small unmanned aircraft, weighing more than half a pound to register their drones. To date more than 350,000 have done so, giving us the opportunity to work with a whole new group of aviators.  There are now more unmanned aircraft registered in the US than there are traditional aircraft.

We established a task force, wrote and implemented the interim rule for the registry, and stood up a registry website, all in two months.

The speed with which we were able to roll this out is a testament to the invaluable input we received from the diverse task force of stakeholders we brought together to work on this issue. And it’s further proof that when government and industry partner, we can innovate, cut through red tape, and use technology to tackle emerging risks.

This is essential with UAS because of how quickly this field is evolving. Almost on a daily basis, we’re seeing proposals from operators who’d like to use unmanned aircraft to do everything from package delivery and pipeline inspection to newsgathering and real estate photography.

Meanwhile, we are continuing to work on the final rule for small UAS and we plan to publish that in late spring.

This week we also announced that we are going to establish an aviation rulemaking committee to develop recommendations for operating micro unmanned aircraft.

The committee will begin its work in March and will make recommendations for how to safely operate drones over people who are not directly involved in the operation of the aircraft.

There has been widespread interest in creating a separate micro UAS category.  As part of the proposed rule for small UAS, we asked for comments on a “micro” classification.  Based on the comments, the FAA has decided to pursue flexible, performance-based requirements that address potential hazards, instead of a classification defined by weight and speed. We expect the ARC to issue its final report in April. 

The fast turnaround again demonstrates our commitment to being flexible in our regulatory approach so that we can accommodate innovation while maintaining our high level of safety.

We will start working on the rule once we receive the committee’s recommendations.