"Flying Into the Future"
Nicholas A. Sabatini, Arlington, VA
January 9, 2007

FAA New Technologies Workshop


Good morning. It is great to be here with so many people who do so much for aviation. What a terrific way to start the New Year. The last time we held this workshop (in late 2005), it was very successful, with excellent presentations, outstanding exhibits, and, of course, the sidebar conversations that are so important to the work we do together.

Many thanks to the conference organizers — I look forward to an equally successful workshop this year.

Today, in keeping with the conference theme, I will talk about “Flying into the Future” — about the technologies that are moving the NAS forward. I will talk about where we are going — our vision for the Next Generation Air Transportation System — what we are doing — and what we must be doing today — to make sure our course is set.

We know where we are going. This is essential. Remember that old saying — if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.

With aviation’s long lead times, complex — and costly — systems, and interdependent elements, it is imperative that we know our destination — and that we work together to get there.

Thanks to the work of the Joint Planning and Development Office, we know where we’re going. The future is a Next Generation Air Transportation System that uses performance-based navigation, surveillance, and communications to put more operational capability directly into the cockpit.

In the future, an aircraft-centric National Airspace System (NAS) will be able to use technology in a more robust way with better navigation and landing capabilities and thorough, accurate, and real-time knowledge of weather and traffic conditions.

The system will be built on a far more comprehensive information network than anything we have ever seen, ensuring the right information gets to the right person at the right time, while keeping traffic running smoothly.

With precise performance-based navigation and internet-like access to critical information — including nearly real-time weather — pilots will make precision landings at airports that do not have control towers, or radar, or Instrument Landing Systems.

In the future, Boeing 787s will fly a negotiated four-dimensional arrival procedure to airports such as San Francisco. Gulfstream 5s will land at airports like Teterboro using hybrid vision for an equivalent visual approach. And, small general aviation aircraft will have an instrument approach capability, with lateral and vertical guidance, to every runway.

In this performance-based future, aircraft will have the onboard capability to handle — and to handle safely — the task at hand anywhere in the world.

That is the future we see — a Next Gen system that is safer, more reliable, more flexible, and will offer greater capacity to meet growing demand.

How do we get to that future? We will get there — one day, one step, and one decision at a time.

Every decision we make today must be made in the context of the future. For every decision we must ask — does this lead to the future we envision? How will this choice interact with other technologies and affect other decisions? What are the trade-offs? Can we afford them?  

Our trip to Next Gen will require attention to costs, but even more attention to consequences. At every decision point, we must know how the decision will affect every other part of the system.

We recognize that today’s NAS relies upon more than a few “band-aids” and workarounds, but with demand projected to triple, a systems approach is an absolute must.

Let me say that again — it’s that important — a systems approach is an absolute must.

The stakes are too high — aviation is too essential — for stop-gap measures, poorly conceived plans, and a lack of commitment.

Our assignment is clear. To begin with, we must keep doing what we are doing now. This is the work we are doing together to build a performance-based National Airspace System.

A performance-based NAS is the foundation for the future. For RNP, we have the “Roadmap for Performance-Based Navigation” for guidance — thanks to the outstanding work of the Performance-based Operations Advisory Rulemaking Committee (PARC).

PARC is a government and industry group. Many of the people who contribute to this outstanding collaboration are here today.

The work of the PARC exemplifies how we are flying into the future. Neither government, nor industry is working in isolation. We are building the future together.

Following the “Roadmap for Performance-Based Navigation,” we’ve got 35 RNP Special Aircraft and Aircrew Authorization Required (SAAAR) instrument approach procedures in place in the NAS today. Three RNP SAAAR approach procedures were published this past November, with an additional three to be published next week. We are on track to publish a total of at least 25 RNP SAAAR procedures and achieve our Flight Plan goal for the third consecutive year.

We published five new RNAV STARs (Standard Terminal Arrivals) and two new SIDS (Standard Instrument Departures) in November. Seven new RNAV procedures will be published next week. The RNAV procedure production schedule is dynamic. Yet, there are enough STARs and SIDs in various stages of development that I am confident we will meet our Flight Plan commitment for a total of 50 published this fiscal year.

At the same time we’re putting RNP and RNAV procedures in place, we are moving to formally define additional FAA criteria for performance-based navigation. We’re also continuing our work with the international community for worldwide RNAV and RNP standards.

Most importantly, we are looking to the aircraft — to aircraft that will have the on-board equipment and technology  to perform the task at hand — anywhere, anytime in the world, and perform it safely.

In this aircraft-centric future, air traffic control will become less of a “control” function. Ultimately, air traffic services will be tailored and flights will be managed based on individual aircraft and flight crew performance capabilities. In the future, the system could “reward” these more capable aircraft by allowing them greater operating flexibilities.

Today, with enhanced flight vision systems we are getting closer to doing in Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) conditions what we now do in Visual Flight Rules (VFR). And, in the future, with equivalent visual operations, we will challenge today’s paradigm of Category I, II, and III approaches.

To transition to a system where “first come, first served” could be supplemented with “best equipped,” the next step is to define Air Traffic Management concepts and requirements in the ERAM era. ERAM, or En-Route Automation Modernization, which will process more than double the number of flight plans, is scheduled to be operational by 2010.

The ATM concepts and requirements should be based on the RTCA/FAA Joint Concept of Operations. This should be — and must be — high on our list of priorities. The challenge is to develop Performance-based Air Traffic Management concepts that use performance-based navigation, surveillance, and communication capabilities, improve operating efficiencies, and craft reduced separation standards that will safely accommodate the huge increase in demand over the next 20 to 30 years.

“Best equipped” could come to be defined this way:  Meeting performance-based aircraft standards in three areas. We’ve talked about Required Navigation Performance. The other two areas:  Required Surveillance Performance — RSP — and Required Communications Performance, or RCP.

Meeting performance-based aircraft standards in these three areas will get us to Required Total System Performance. Once again, these are not isolated standards. This underscores the importance of a comprehensive, systems approach. Both RSP and RCP will depend on major changes in NAS infrastructure. The evolution of this surface and space-based infrastructure must work in harmony with the performance-based navigation capabilities that are already being implemented.

We must begin developing requirements for this infrastructure now due to the long lead time and significant funding that will be necessary. Thanks to our experience with ADS-B, we’ve got a good start with Required Surveillance Performance.

These are early days. Yet, we do know that ADS-B, when displayed in the cockpit, greatly improves situational awareness in the en route segment, in the terminal area during approaches, and even on the airport surface.

Our experience with ADS-B will enable the development of performance requirements for shared surveillance responsibilities. More than that, it will lead directly to the performance requirements we describe for Required Surveillance Performance.

We know that we need advanced onboard equipment with backup capability on the aircraft. Ideally, most — if not all — of the navigation and surveillance capability would be on the aircraft. This way the required capabilities would go wherever the aircraft goes. This is in keeping with our vision of an aircraft-centric Next Generation Air Transportation System.

FAA’s ADS-B Program Office — and you’ll hear more about ADS-B tomorrow — will issue a Request For Offer this spring to contract a service provider for ADS-B coverage within the entire NAS. In addition, we are working on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that will propose to require ADS-B equipage by 2020 to assure access to certain airspace.

As for Required Communications Performance, these are early days indeed. What we do know is that it will be strongly dependent on major modifications to the NAS that must be developed to integrate with Air Traffic Management requirements. We also know the funding requirements will be considerable — and the consequences of our decisions great.

We know that once operators begin equipping they are making a long-term commitment. They will have to live with their equipage decisions for a long time. This is why — even though these are “early days” — it is important to assess consequences and achieve consensus. We need to identify the needed performance-based concepts, capabilities, and requirements.

The idea is to evolve in a seamless way from where we are now with performance-based navigation. The challenge is for government and industry to come to consensus on how best to integrate Air Traffic Management, performance-based surveillance, and performance-based communications into a performance-based NAS using the foundation we’ve laid with performance-based navigation.

Our mission — and we choose to accept it — is to work together to identify and clarify the operating concepts, the performance standards, and the criteria and procedures required to meet the rapidly growing demand.

At the same time, we must broaden the spectrum of people at the table. We need all sectors engaged in the discussions, deliberations, and decisions. The stakes are too high for key elements of aviation not to be represented.

We need commitment as we develop the top-level concept and the specific requirements and criteria. The devil really will be in the details as we tackle what will be one of the most difficult things the community has ever done — or will ever do.

Moving the NAS forward — “flying into the future” — calls for all the expertise and ingenuity we can bring to bear. At the same time we are calling for a revolution in how we operate in the NAS, we need to follow an incremental and iterative approach.

We do not have the luxury of moving out of the house while we build the new one.

It may have been easier to put a man on the moon more than a generation ago. Industry didn’t have to agree! And NASA didn’t have to worry about global harmonization.

Technology is not the challenge. For the most part, we have the technology. As I see it, the three biggest challenges are:

  • Defining the implementation criteria and determining how the pieces fit together.
  • Keeping our eye on the final goal.
  • And, continuing to work together across the global community for the best possible solutions.

Yes, the price will be high. Yet, the price of failure will be even higher. We cannot even begin to quantify the cost to our industry, to our economy, and to our quality of life if we do not succeed in building the Next Generation Air Transportation System.

We must keep moving, bringing more players to the table, and making the best decisions we can. At the same time, we must remember that the “perfect is the enemy of the good.”

In closing, I’ll use a quotation that you may have heard before. I return to this quotation because it is so appropriate to the important work that we are doing together.

Peter Drucker said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”     

That is exactly what we are doing. Together, we are flying into the future and building a safer and stronger Next Generation Air Transportation System.

I look forward to working with all of you as we create aviation’s future.

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