"Civil Aviation Gets the Green Light"
Marion C. Blakey
March 8, 2007
Well thank you, Undersecretary Sega, for that kind introduction, and good morning everyone.
Secretary Wynne, nice to see you again, sir. And thanks for framing the debate so nicely just now. It’s clear that the military’s energy security mission is something we’re all going to have to be a part of.
In the State of the Union , the President made it clear that we’ve got to find that new way, a new alternative, to wean Americaoff the I-V drip of foreign oil.
The FAA welcomes this challenge. Continuing concerns about air quality and aviation’s impact on the environment compel us to look for new solutions. We are, and you’ll hear about them in just a second.
And I know that the Air Force has a major undertaking of its own in converting half its fleet to synthetic fuel by 2015. That’s about as daring as they come.
And I want Secretary Wynne and all of you to know that the commercial side will be right there with you.
For the last two weeks, civil aviation has been under some pretty hot klieg lights. The talk has been all about passengers stranded on planes, screaming babies and overflowing toilets.
I’m here today to shift the attention to what aviation is doing right, from the changes in the fuel that powers the aircraft to the changes in the system we fly in, all the way to the changes in the way we finance the National Airspace System.
So if you were expecting a speech on the status quo, look somewhere else. Civil aviation is not the same old same old.
Let’s start with economics. Across the United States, the simple act of flying employs 9 million people — about the size of New York — and contributes $640 billion dollars a year to the economy.
That’s a lot of green. But there’s more to that than just money.
The last 40 years have seen aviation emissions fall dramatically — almost 60 percent per passenger mile. It’s getting to the point where aircraft are greener than cars.
Consider the next big American jetliner, the Dreamliner. Boeing’s 787 burns fuel so efficiently, that if it traveled on the Beltway, it would get about 80 passenger miles to the gallon. That’s something you don’t expect to see in the HOV lane.
What most of America, I think, doesn’t realize is that at less than three percent, aviation emissions are a relatively small contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Cars produce seven times that amount. Power plants? Eighteen.
But still, the impetus is there for us to do more, knowing that we’re going to reach a billion passengers by 2015. The trajectory for civil aviation is up. Way up. We had more than 750 million fliers last year.
Given those numbers, environmental issues may be the most serious, long-term constraints facing our industry.
The question is, how do we at the FAA reconcile the public’s ever-increasing demand for flying while at the same time being mindful of what all this activity is doing to the environment?
Well, we haven’t been sitting around waiting to find out. Back in the fall of ’05, with advice from stakeholders in one of our research advisory committees, we engaged in a more concerted effort to tackle pressing energy issues.
This led to a workshop hosted by Boeing in May of ’06 that brought together airports, the airlines and the manufacturers, as well as DoD and Energy. Out of this effort grew the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative.
We committed almost a million dollars to undertake two major studies to develop a national roadmap on the viability of alternative aviation fuels.
The first study will answer the key questions surrounding feasibility, costs, barriers and technical issues. The second will take a look at all of the environmental benefits. Look for both to be completed by September of this year.
Given the seriousness of the situation, I’m confident that these studies aren’t another going to gather dust in a store room somewhere. We’ve made linkages across government and industry that’ll position us to get the answers we need to move to the next phase.
We need to assess costs and benefits carefully and diligently as we chart our course.
As we face our environmental and capacity-building challenges, alternative fuels may become an important element of our Next Generation Air Transportation System.
In the NextGen financing reform bill that was sent up to Congress last month, we asked for the authority and funds to form a research consortium.
It will look into the development and certification of Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions and Noise [CLEEN] engine and airframe technology over the next decade.
It’ll also examine performance objectives for fuel efficiency, noise and alternative fuels.
We’re intrigued at the possibility of generating kerosene from natural gas or coal. South African Airways and other airlines flying out of Johannesburgare already doing so with SASOL, a synthetic jet fuel.
While synthetic kerosene isn’t 100 percent green, the potential’s definitely there. On one hand, it doesn’t help your C-O-2 footprint much because it’s still a kerosene fuel. What it does potentially do is help other air quality issues.
The thinking is that synthetic fuels may produce less particulate matter, making it a cleaner fuel and thus having fewer air quality impacts. Good for the environment, good for industry.
Notice I said may. We still don’t know to what extent alternative fuels will reduce particulate matter. So, we are very grateful that the Air Force will test emissions from high bypass turbofan engines — which are similar to commercial engines — in some of its upcoming efforts.
We’re also working to reduce fuel consumption and improve our green credentials through the way we operate the air traffic system.
We’re taking a comprehensive look — with DoD as a partner — at a transformational move to a network centric, satellite-based endeavor called the Next Generation Air Transportation System.
As a step toward NextGen, we’ve done some prototype work with Continuous Descent Approach, which has the double benefit of reducing noise and emissions. It does so by keeping aircraft higher and at lower thrust levels for longer than traditional step-down approaches. It’s like a powered glide.
UPS is using CDA for about a dozen West Coast flights from its base inLouisville . Brown has seen a 30 percent reduction in Nox [nitrogen oxide] emissions below 3,000 feet, and a four-to-six decibel reduction in aircraft noise within 15 miles of the airport.
And, it’s saving the package delivery giant more than $250,000 a year in fuel. Not an insignificant sum when carriers routinely lose millions in excess fuel consumption because of capacity problems.
Another building block for NextGen is RNP, required navigation performance, which allows pilots to take advantage of satellite technology to fly a more precise flight path into an airport.
That means people on the ground will hear far less jet noise and experience far less pollution in the air.
RNP is the answer for airports in challenging terrain or weather, allowing more planes to land and fewer canceled or diverted flights. Less time, money and inconvenience to the passenger. We plan to publish at least 25 RNP approaches this year, including 10 in Atlanta in May.
RNP is an advanced form of area navigation, or RNAV. Both of them are performance-based navigation procedures that let aircraft fly on any desired flight path under certain circumstances. This means greater flexibility and access, even in bad weather. And it means fuel savings.
We’ve okayed 128 RNAV procedures at 38 airports, and we think they will save operators at Atlanta ’s Hartsfield $34 million a year in direct operating costs.
All in all, I’d say the FAA has made a good start toward meeting the President’s challenge. We relish the next leg of the journey.
And one way we get there is by taking the steps we’re talking about today — alternative fuels. They’re no longer the domain of the tree hugger set. This is serious business, and the FAA’s determined to work with our partners to find an alternative that strikes the balance between energy security and aviation’s environmental performance.