May 20, 2009

Statement of Nancy Lobue, Acting Assistant Administrator, Aviation Policy, Planning, and Environment

Before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Aviation, on Aviation Consumer Issues: Emergency Contingency Planning And Outlook for Summer Travel (Oral Testimony as Prepared for Delivery)

Chairman Costello, Ranking Member Petri, Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for having me here today to discuss the outlook for the summer travel season. I appreciate this Committee's concern about congestion and delays. No one wants a repeat of the congested summer of 2007. That's why NextGen is the necessary technology leap that expands capacity to meet demand — it improves the passenger experience while enhancing safety — and reduces congestion, noise and emissions.

Even in the face of falling passenger demand and a reduced number of airline flights, we still experience congestion in our busiest airspace. We know that we must be poised to handle future demand that will surely return as the nation's economy improves. Secretary LaHood has made clear that accelerating NextGen is a key priority for him and this Administration. We appreciate the support that this Committee, as well as Congress as a whole, has given us to move forward with NextGen.

Nationwide, the FAA has been putting a range of solutions into place. New runways provide significant capacity and operational improvements. As you know, we opened three new runways in November at Seattle, Dulles, and O'Hare. We also completed a runway extension at Philadelphia in February. And we have several other runway projects in development over the next several years to increase capacity and reduce delays for the flying public.

The FAA has been highly proactive in anticipating and planning to reduce delays nationally. We began our summer 2009 planning last October. We've met with the air carriers, and other stakeholders. We're monitoring airline schedules six months into the future.
And we are ready to respond with "Congestion Action Teams" to any airports where schedule increases appear likely to increase delays significantly.

We have already seen these improvements pay dividends. Last summer, we saw improvements in delays over summer 2007. In New York, on-time performance, average and total delays, and the number of operations with long delays all improved in the summer of 2008 compared to summer 2007. As we gear up for the summer of 2009, we are continuing our work on implementing measures to minimize delays.

Summer thunderstorms typically mean increased delays in the summer, but we expect on-time performance to be higher nationally than last summer with the reduction in flights by the airlines.
Despite the downturn in traffic, FAA is continuing to work aggressively to implement operational and structural improvements so we are prepared to handle the up-tick of traffic in the future.

Now, in New York, we haven't seen the same volume of downturn in traffic or delays. We are also anticipating some impact to operations caused by various runway construction improvements. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's work on construction projects at JFK that will ultimately have delay benefits, closed a runway there for the past few weeks, and will close another runway there for much of next summer. Planning for that process is underway and will be reaching out to the airport and other stakeholders soon.

In response to New York's unique situation, the FAA maximizes the use of airspace, especially in congested areas such as New York, through targeted airspace and procedures enhancements.
For example, we are using RAPT, the Route Availability Planning Tool, to better work around bad weather to reduce delays. We have also limited scheduled operations at LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark and continue to work on the New York Airspace Redesign, the necessary prerequisite to successful implementation of NextGen.

In our ongoing efforts to reduce delays, the FAA plans to continue to keep the limits on scheduled operations in place at the New York airports, while this Administration considers its next steps with regard to a long-term congestion management solution for the New York area.

While we have a strong focus in New York because of its impact on the rest of the NAS, we continue to work to improve the safety and efficiency of the entire system nationwide.

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Petri, Members of the Subcommittee. This concludes my prepared remarks. I would be happy to answer any questions that you may have.