"Preparing for Tomorrow"
Marion C. Blakey, Reno, NV
March 29, 2007
Aircraft Electronics Association
Good morning, and thank you, Paula [Derks]. Thanks much for the invitation. It’s a pleasure to speak to the front lines of aviation. Let me tell you, that historical retrospective is an eyeful. And I must say that’s a high-flying way to bring in your board.
This room is the face of avionics. Without you, without the work you do, the blinking lights and glass panel displays of aviation just fade to black. Let there be no mistake about this one: you keep America flying. And, might I add, you’ve done it for 50 years. A spectacular job. For that, Paula, Michael [O’Leary] — AEA should take a bow.
This is indeed a conference of many firsts, especially for me. I’ve got to be honest. This is the first conference I’ve ever attended with an afternoon seminar entitled “Getting Paid and Staying Out of Jail in the Global Marketplace.” When you see something like that, usually you’re in a theater and Indiana Jones is up there on the screen. But, I guess, there’s a first time for everything.
Let me start with what I think is a real bright spot, a place where AEA and the FAA are both going to get some mileage. I believe that our current system and processes are doing a good job filling the need to bring new avionics equipment to the market. I also think things are okay in terms of introducing safety enhancements to the cockpit. But when something’s already working, I think the thing to do is to try to improve it. So, we’re working together to simplify and improve what we do today.
As an example, just last September, we issued a Notice that touches this group directly. “Non-TSO Functions Integrated into TSO Articles” is known in FAA shorthand as “TSO Plus.” We’re adopting this notice in the upcoming revision to the TSO order. We’re taking a common sense approach to certifying the additional bells and whistles your customers are looking for. As everyone in this room knows full well, cockpit real estate is always at a premium. Combining the functions of two separate pieces of equipment or providing new features over and above the basic design requirements makes sense on many levels. Using the TSO Plus approach allows the additional functions or features to be evaluated at the same time as the basic system. This avoids costly, time consuming, and often repetitive efforts during installation.
This one’s a win-win-win situation all the way around: FAA, industry, aircraft owners and operators. When I came to the FAA, I made it clear that we as an organization needed to operate more like a bottom-line business, looking for efficiencies and using risk-based methodologies. This is a step in that direction.
We took another step just before the new year when Nick Sabatini’s Aviation Safety organization became the first federal agency of its size and complexity to earn an “ISO 9001” certificate. As you may know, ISO 9001 is a Good Housekeeping seal of approval. It’s an internationally recognized standard that distinguishes organizations that apply systematic approaches to standardize and improve their processes. The aim is to deliver their products and services in a quality manner. The organization establishes metrics and quality objectives to monitor and continuously improve their performance. We did it.
Let there be no equivocation on this point. I think it’s absolutely crucial that the government’s aviation safety business is held to the same high standards as those it regulates. We can’t push you harder than we’re willing to push ourselves. Here’s our universe: 6,110 air operators, 600,000 active pilots, 1,600 approved manufacturers, 91,000 flight instructors, 11,000 designees, and 234,000 aircraft.
The FAA’s Aviation Safety Organization contains just over 6,000 employees. Unless we work as smart as we do hard, we can’t service the number of customers I just reeled off. ISO helps us focus on the key processes and services we provide and ensures they are uniformly applied to fit both our needs and the needs of our customers. Customer feedback is one of the most powerful tools to continuously improve our ISO processes. We learn from each other. If there’s a better way to do something, ISO facilitates incorporating that improvement, so if you’re not seeing our Aviation Safety services improve, let us know.
Just last Friday, we made some headlines with the application of some technology that’s familiar to this group. We fast-tracked the certification process to get own-ship position on surface moving maps into the cockpit. The standards have been available for several years, but we learned that manufacturers thought the type of device necessary to display this information was too costly. Certified equipment for ground and airborne operation carried a price tag of about 200 thousand dollars.
Using risk methodologies, our certification engineers forged a new path to enable surface moving map information on much more affordable equipment. By applying certification rigor to the software portion of the moving map avionics, at a cost that most airline and high-end operators can readily afford, we can get this information to pilots and make a real safety difference. We also believe that this technology will ultimately facilitate the approvals in all general aviation aircraft as well. This is an example of government moving forward, pushing the envelope and getting it done right.
Do I think this is going to make a difference in terms of runway safety? Absolutely. When the pilot looks out at a field at night that looks like a Christmas tree and thinks, “Where exactly am I?” the moving map has the answer instantaneously. As to whether or not the moving map could have prevented previous runway accidents, I don’t know. But from my time at the FAA and at the NTSB I know that predictions are just guesses, and they don’t move the chains. The here-and-now takes care of that, and the moving map, that’s a touchdown, no questions asked.
I’d also like to give you an update on where we stand with ADS-B. As most of you know, our surveillance services today can’t handle the traffic growth projected out to 2020. Now, ADS-B technology tosses our 1950s and 1960s approach out the window. With new avionics onboard the aircraft and a complementary ground infrastructure, we’ll have much greater precision in ATC and important new capabilities in the NAS.
I think it represents a huge opportunity to enhance safety through technology. When people call ADS-B the foundation of our Next Generation Air Transportation System, I think they’re absolutely right. With ADS-B transmitting the aircraft’s type, GPS position, projected track and more, it will give pilots and controllers the same situational awareness.
But I don’t have to convince the GA community about the benefits of ADS-B. The 40 percent reduction in the accident rate in Alaska under the Capstone program speaks for itself.
So where are we? We’ll make a contract award this summer for the ground infrastructure for ADS-B services. Specifically, that’s the ground stations that are about the size of dorm-room refrigerators. Depending on what’s aboard the aircraft, they’ll provide weather and traffic information as well. The network will contain about 400-500 of these. The three prime bidders for the national contract are Lockheed-Martin, ITT and Raytheon. It’s a very robust competition.
We’re also proceeding with a proposed rule to mandate ADS-B avionics in the cockpit. The rulemaking workgroup is looking at requirements that are generally consistent with the way we operate. Today, we require transponders for controlled airspace and busy airports. We’ll require ADS-B equipage for the same. The rule should be ready in September.
Bottom line: ADS-B is going to change how we do business. If you want to see the next generation, look at ADS-B.
You know, there are some hard facts that we’ve just got to face. One is that we’ll vault past a billion passengers by 2015. The second is that the system as we know it today just can’t stand up to that load. Those of us who stood on line or in the queue on the runway this year already know that. 2006 was the worst on record for delays. If we don’t move toward a next generation air transportation system, 2006 will look like the good old days.
Fortunately, we have a NextGen plan in place combining the firepower of five separate cabinet-level agencies. It will take us to 2025 and beyond with a heavy focus on delivering in the near term, too. When the traffic doubles, NextGen will have a string of seamless technologies in place that can accommodate it. Whether we’re looking at A-380s or new GA aircraft, microjets, UAVs or the low-cost and regional jets that are driving the bus today, NextGen can handle it.
But there’s one thing holding us back, and that’s the funding stream the FAA has in place today. Now bear with me here. I know I have an uphill climb, but with an entire panel on Friday devoted to the “negative effects” of our proposal and the status quo being touted as the right method for the future, I do want to talk with you for a few minutes about it.
I’m going to start with a couple of questions for you. How many of you have long-range business plans in place that can only be funded a year at a time? How many of you tie those business plans to the price of an airline ticket?
No one does unless you’re an airline. A funding system put in place decades ago, a funding system that didn’t contemplate fare wars or Orbitz or Southwest. No one did.
But with the expiration of the FAA’s financing system at the end of September, we have a chance to fix that. It’s an historic opportunity. But unfortunately it’s in danger of degrading into a stick fight over user fees. General Aviation’s afraid of user fees. That’s why GA is paying through a fuel tax. Under our proposal, the majority of GA will never pay a user fee. What they’re missing is the $4.3 billion in capital funding those user fees would finance over the next five years. We’ve put our money where our mouth is, increasing capital spending by 40 percent. We’re putting big investments into ADS-B and other core NextGen technologies.
Some of the rhetoric out there is just flat out wrong. The criticisms that we can’t be trusted with this plan just don’t hold water. One hundred percent of our major capital projects are on schedule and on budget. I’ll stack that up against any federal agency anytime.
When you hear horror stories about the FAA being “anti-GA,” I want you to take a good look at the numbers. In our proposal, Joe pilot in a Cessna 172 will experience an operating cost increase of about four dollars per hour. In other words, the owner of a very expensive airplane is engaged in a heated dispute that hinges on the cost of a Starbucks latte. It’s important to note here that if the fuel tax is increased, it still represents less than five percent of the overall cost to fly your GA aircraft.
This is about paying your fair share. While we’re having a debate over who’s going to pick up the tab, the passenger in the middle seat is footing the lion’s share of the bill for operation of the system. The commercial traveler is paying 95 percent of the cost but imposing only 73 percent of the cost. A seat on a commercial jetliner is the most heavily taxed spot in all of aviation.
If I were a GA pilot, I’d be afraid of gridlock. When gridlock comes, we’ll have to slow things down because of safety. That could spell an end to the first-come, first-served system we know today. In a gridlock scenario, a plane carrying three hundred people is going to trump one carrying three.
There are a few other myths out there that warrant attention. The rumor and innuendo you’re hearing about controller salaries is particularly vexing. It would lead you to believe that we’re trying to undermine our own workforce. If we really wanted to undermine our controllers, as some allege, we wouldn’t be paying them $50,000 after a year on the job or $94,000 after five years. That’s pretty good money by anyone’s standard. Veteran controllers, mind you, have been held virtually financially unharmed.
There’s another contention floating around, a notion that somehow our proposal eliminates congressional oversight of the FAA. That’s just not true. Our bill does nothing of the sort. The Congressional oversight that’s in place today stays in place. I’ve got to tell you, a fee-based system is much more transparent and accountable, and therefore easier to review.
Then there’s the matter of the $600 million less that our critics claim is raised under our financing system versus the current one. No. Ours is a cost-based system, meaning we raise exactly what we need.
Another common criticism we hear is that there is no specific map for NextGen. Let me be clear on this. There is a specific road map for NextGen. We’re moving to a satellite based system that’s going to provide terrific benefits to pilots all the way across the board and to the flying public. We have a detailed concept of operations, and we know exactly how we’re going to spend the money over the next give years. We know the cost of NextGen.
This is particularly troubling because a next generation system is not a novel idea. If you head overseas, you’ll find that the rest of the world is moving forward on plans of their own. They’re not mired in an argument of how to pay for it. They don’t have time for the world leader in aviation to get all the ducks in a row.
Let’s keep our eye on the big picture here. The people who are rejecting this proposal aren’t offering one of their own. They’re telling us to stick with the status quo. I’m drawing a line in the sand, and I’m telling you that the status quo is a recipe for gridlock. What we need here is constructive discussion, resolution. We — that’s all of us; that’s each and every one of us — need to get it done. Time is not on our side.