"U.S. and India: Bringing the Raga of Aviation to Life"
Marion C. Blakey, Delhi, India
November 13, 2006

Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry


Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you.

President Poddar, Federation members, I appreciate the invitation to speak before such a distinguished gathering.

It’s worth noting that I’m the first FAA Administrator to address FICCI. And that’s quite an honor considering all the influential people whom you’ve hosted, like Prince Andrew and Prime Minister Singh.

You know, back in the States, the Federal Aviation Administration is blessed with the talents of so many Indian Americans. And wouldn’t you know, they’ve all asked me to do something for them while I’m here.

One employee, a snooker fan, sends his regards to Pankaj Advani. Another colleague, a big-time cricket follower, is still upset about the loss to the Aussies. And finally, a Bollywood fan wants me to get an autographed picture of Ash. I’m still wondering about that last one. Maybe someone here can help me out?

In all seriousness, FICCI is where the critical issues of the day come to be debated and discussed. Agriculture, education, banking, trade. You name it.

But there’s one issue that’s just as high on the scale — one equally important to your businesses, your economy, your citizens. I’m speaking of aviation.

While I realize that some of you may not work in the industry, it’s a certainty that aviation affects everyone.

The air transport industry employs five million people globally — almost two million of them in the Asia Pacific region. And air transport pumped more than 300 billion dollars into the world’s economy last year.

Here in India, train travel is still the most popular way to go, I know. But flying is looking increasingly attractive to your middle class. That’s 200 million people right there — 20 percent of the population.

With numbers like that, India’s aviation demand is expected to outstrip China’s in a decade. According to one estimate, India will spend more than seventy-two billion dollars on planes over the next twenty years to keep up with all this growth.

When you let that all sink in, it’s clear — aviation in India is moving. But with it come questions about capacity, safety and infrastructure.

I’m quite familiar with those questions myself, because they’re being asked of my country as well. We’re facing many of the same challenges as you.

Now in aviation, as with any business, a challenge is akin to a dare — an opportunity to bridge the divide. Cooperation is the order of the day.

Saying that, I’m pleased to announce that a few hours ago, the Civil Aviation Ministry and the FAA affirmed our pledge in writing to do just that. Cooperate.

We signed a fundamental agreement that serves as the stepping stone toward broader technical cooperation later on.

This pact — it’s the beginning of a new era of aviation partnership. And I stress, the beginning.

You see, we’re in the early stages of discussion on a bilateral aviation safety agreement as well, one that will cover a range of safety measures. Add to that the fact that we’re negotiating with the Indian government to establish an Aviation Cooperation Program like the one that’s working so well in China.

The ACP brings together the public and private sectors to support India’s attempts to strengthen its civil aviation system, and I’m pleased that some of the members could join us this afternoon.

The ACP is identifying projects that’ll promote safety and operations efficiency — projects like air traffic flow management, environmental programs, and aviation training. There’s also room for cooperation on the latest in satellite-based navigation technology, which will breed greater efficiency and safety for air traffic controllers and pilots.

Once we get the necessary approvals from the Indian government, the ACP will be co-chaired by Randy Fiertz, and he’s ready to help answer your questions.

Randy, where are you? I’d like you all to meet the FAA’s new representative in India. He’s been in charge of our Delhi office since we opened it in August.

I tell you, we’re really excited about the plans we have in store for this office. At this very moment, we’re assembling the first-ever U.S.-India Aviation Summit. It’ll be next April, here in Delhi, and I invite you all to come.

The FAA and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency are working together to bring this Summit about, because this is where the tough questions go to get answered.

Like here’s one I always get — “What’s the United States going to do in 2025 when a record one billion passengers a year are traveling through our airspace?"

And my answer is? Absolutely nothing. That’s because we’re not waiting for 2025 to do something. We’re preparing now, with an unprecedented effort that we call the Next Generation Air Transportation System.

It’s a comprehensive plan for our entire system — air traffic management, airports, security, and advanced flight systems. It’s the whole package — what we refer to as curb-to-curb.

I brought all this up with Civil Aviation Minister Patel and other authorities, and I can tell you that there was some genuine interest in what we’re doing. How does NextGen work they asked?

Well at the heart of this effort is satellite-based navigation, bolstered by a technology that breeds safety, efficiency and capacity. It’s known as Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast.

ADS-B puts the pilot and the air traffic controller on the same page at the same time. That’s huge for reducing accidents.

We’re rolling ADS-B out in several challenging pockets of our airspace, and we hope to have the system up and running by 2010 — only a few years from now when you think about it. Then, we plan an aggressive deployment schedule for our entire airspace by 2013.           

It’s already being used by one of the biggest freight companies in the world, United Parcel Service, with terrific results. It’s one critical element that’s supporting the system of the next generation.

There’s another worth mentioning. It’s called WAAS, or Wide Area Augmentation System. It works somewhat like India’s GAGAN. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it stands for GPS and Geo Augmentation Navigation system.

GAGAN was jointly developed with Raytheon and the Indian government, and the technology enhances navigation in all phases of flight — from take-off to landing.

Routes are more flexible and efficient, landing safety is increased, and navigation service providers offer better guidance at lower costs.

I’m intrigued by the possibilities that GAGAN offers, and I’m going to see a demonstration on Thursday when I meet with officials from the Airports Authority in Bangalore.

Just think. With our WAAS and your GAGAN working in sync, we could literally have a safe, seamless system all the way from India to the United States.

I tell you, our nations are on the cusp of a partnership that could foster tremendous advances in capacity, safety and efficiency. For my part, I want to work with our Indian counterparts to take this partnership further than it’s ever gone.

Aviation is changing right before our eyes, and we better change with it.

As we look to the airspace of 2025, it’ll be even more complex, but, I hope, even more versatile. It’ll have to be. We’re going to have mega-planes with 500 passengers sharing the skies with very light jets carrying as little as four passengers. So the system of tomorrow will have to be flexible enough to handle all these different demands.

Flexibility. You know, I have read that one of the unique qualities of Indian classical music is its elasticity. The composer lays down a foundation, a structure of melodic and rhythmic arrangements, but it’s up to the players to work within that structure to bring the raga to life.

Our approach to aviation has to be like that. We’re those players.

It’s comforting to see how far our aviation relationship has developed. With the Open Skies agreement we signed last year, it’s easier than ever to step on a plane in New York and be in Delhi in a matter of hours.

But you know, well before the ink was dry on that Open Skies deal, the miles between our nations were already melting. And for that, we can thank one of India’s great aviators and businessmen, J.R. Tata.

As many of you know, he founded what is known today as Air India. He was a citizen of many “firsts” — first to get a pilot’s license, first to offer scheduled service within the country.

Well back in 1960, with a shiny new Boeing 707, his Air India made an inaugural flight to New York, thus becoming the first Asian airline with scheduled service to the United States.

So you see, we’ve been friends for a long time. Aviation has a way of bringing people together, more so than ever before. I’m hopeful that, as with our predecessors, we, too, will be enriched by further exchanges. My gratitude to all of you for being here today. And thank you.

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