"Tomorrow is Today"
Marion C. Blakey, Washington, D.C.
June 13, 2007

JPDO Day on the Hill

Good morning, and thank you for coming. I appreciate the focus that the Secretary and the Members are bringing to this issue. I couldn’t agree more with Secretary Peters. We are indeed at a critical juncture. Everyone involved in aviation agrees that our system needs a transformation. It’s stretched to the max. We know that our technology needs to be upgraded. And we all agree that the Next Generation Air Transportation System, NextGen, is the way to go.

So, the question that follows naturally goes something like this:  If we’re all in agreement, what’s the problem? We need to make sure that those not involved in aviation day-to-day share our sense of urgency.

Too often, people think that if we ignore this, it’ll somehow just go away. The system suffered after 9/11, and it was very tough, but it bounced back. The airlines were largely in bankruptcy, and now they’re in the black. Passenger numbers were down, and now we’re setting records. Aviation is resilient, so folks sometimes assume that we’ll somehow, someway make it through.

The difference is that this isn’t a rebound or recovery situation. In this case, we’re watching a steady slide toward gridlock. We all remember last summer. I’m afraid the headlines and CNN are calling it right:  this summer’s going to be even worse. But still, when you’re talking about a system of the future, well, it’s easy to think that you can take care of it tomorrow.

Well, tomorrow is here. Tomorrow is today. You can call it critical mass. You can call it gridlock. But whatever you call it, we all know that the problem is upon us. This is not a situation that’s going to happen in 2025. It’s here. It’s now.

But there is good news. We have a plan in place, and it’s well under way. That’s what brings us here today. NextGen will enable us to meet not just capacity needs that will come our way, but it will enhance safety as well, and provide a much greener, environmentally friendly system to boot.

We’re switching from a ground-based 60s-era system to a satellite-based approach. We’re using new navigation approaches, and they’re being adopted quickly by airlines like Delta, Southwest and American — all of whom are making significant investments in equipping their aircraft. New satellite-based technology like ADS-B is giving pilots real-time cockpit displays of traffic information, both on the ground and in the air. ADS-B is the backbone of NextGen. For the first time, pilots and controllers will have a much better sense of what’s going on around them at any given time. As the Senator [Stevens] can tell you, with this in play, general aviation accidents are down in Alaska by 40 percent.

And even though aviation represents about two to three percent of the greenhouse gases, NextGen also is poised to chip away at a number that’s already low. NextGen pushes the envelope on cleaner burning fuels. On the air traffic side of the house, direct routings and new procedures reduce fuel burn, which means less greenhouse gas emissions and local pollutants, as well as reducing aircraft noise. That’s a game-changer for shrinking aviation’s environmental footprint.

We’re also getting ready to launch network-enabled operations to enhance security — a system that will feed a common picture of what’s happening in the sky to state and federal agencies alike. We’re also working on what I’d call an Internet in the sky, SWIM, which will provide high-quality, timely data to everyone. The weather tools we’re putting in place will help you land at places that normally would have been out of reach when the storms rolled in.

If you’re interested in learning more about the future of Next Gen, the Concept of Operations for NextGen we’re releasing today is the document that brings it all together. There’s also a CD-Rom available.

In closing, though, please keep in mind that the problem I mentioned a moment ago is really only half the challenge. We know what we need and how to fix it. The next question is how do we pay for it? We’ve put forward a comprehensive proposal to fund NextGen and are working with Congress to get new legislation enacted. If we’re unable to have a financing reform bill in place by September 30, when the current set of taxes expire, the delays and the missed connections and the headlines are only going to get worse — much worse. Without a reliable funding stream, the NextGen program will start to slow down, and when the bow wave of delays hits, it’ll be too late.

If you walk away from today with only one thought, let it be this:  There are 109 days until September 30. Let’s get it done.