April 21, 2010

Statement of Karlin Toner, Director, Joint Planning and Development Office

Before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Aviation on Nextgen: Long-Term Planning and Interagency Cooperation


Chairman Costello, Congressman Petri, and Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for inviting me here today to discuss the Joint Planning and Development Office’s (JPDO) work in long-term planning and interagency cooperation in developing the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). When I appeared before you last March, I was on detail from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to the Department of Transportation (DOT) as the Senior Staff Advisor for NextGen coordination. In that capacity, I also served as the liaison between the NextGen partner departments and agencies and the Chair of the Senior Policy Committee, Secretary LaHood. I am appearing before you today as the new Director of the JPDO, a position that I have had the privilege of serving in since late February of this year. Secretary LaHood and Administrator Babbitt have committed to advancing and accelerating NextGen, and I am eager to help carry out their vision.

As this Committee is aware, NextGen is changing the way the national airspace system operates — with goals to improve safety, reduce congestion, noise, and emissions, expand capacity to meet future demand, and improve the passenger experience. NextGen is not a single piece of equipment or a program or a system that will instantaneously transform the air transportation system. NextGen builds on legacy systems to modernize air traffic control and ultimately will deliver a series of programs that transform the National Airspace System (NAS). NextGen takes advantage of relatively new technologies that have already been transforming our personal lives and the way we do business, such as GPS, analog-to-digital, and network-to-network data sharing.

Parts of NextGen are already being implemented. The aviation community has done a tremendous amount of work with planning, research and development, testing, and deployment. Research products are maturing and operational capabilities are moving into place to enable aircraft to fly as efficiently on rainy days as they do on sunny days. In fact, the FAA has deployed Automatic Dependant Surveillance-Broadcast (more commonly known as ADS-B) ground infrastructure and is now providing operating capability over the Gulf of Mexico and some operators are already reaping these benefits of more efficient travel. Still, the next few years are critical to the transformation of the national air transportation system — a system that must meet the civil aviation, defense, and homeland security needs of the United States.

As NextGen moves forward, the role of the JPDO has also evolved. Initially, the office was created by Vision-100 as an interagency group to work across government and with the industry to define the NextGen integrated plan. During the earlier planning stages, I was fortunate to be part of that visionary group as aNational Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) researcher serving on an integrated product team, helping to brainstorm ideas and concepts that might benefit the modernization of our air transportation system. As the planning matured, the JPDO focused more exclusively on the long-term research planning.

On November 18, 2008, Executive Order 13479 was issued. Entitled “Transformation of the National Air Transportation System,” it required the Secretary of Transportation to establish within the DOT a staff, including employees from other departments and agencies involved in NextGen, to support the Secretary and the Senior Policy Committee. The partner departments and agencies include the FAA, NASA, DOT, the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Commerce, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The Senior Policy Committee, which sets the policy direction for NextGen, is chaired by the Secretary of Transportation, and includes the Secretaries, Administrators, and Directors of the above agencies, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence as an ex officio member.

Late last year, Secretary LaHood asked Administrator Babbitt to redefine the duties of the Director of the JPDO to include the NextGen Senior Staff Advisor responsibilities. In restructuring these duties, Administrator Babbitt designated that the Director report directly to the FAA Deputy Administrator. Thus, the JPDO Director’s position has been elevated for increased responsibility and visibility within the FAA. Additionally, by wrapping the Senior Staff Advisor duties into the Director’s position, this realignment brings greater DOT involvement directly to the JPDO by formalizing the support relationship of the JPDO to the Secretary and the Senior Policy Committee.

The new organization’s strength is its connections and its ability to leverage the best of the Executive Order and the enabling legislation. The realignment has raised the visibility of the office, in keeping with the Administration’s commitment to advancing NextGen. With direct access to both the FAA Deputy Administrator and the Secretary of Transportation, the JPDO is able to have regular, high-level input from senior policymakers at both FAA and DOT.

Moreover, the Director’s new responsibilities expand the opportunity for collaboration among agencies. It is critical that we effectively and efficiently leverage the work of other agencies to achieve our NextGen goals. When issues arise involving more than a single agency, the JPDO provides a forum for engagement and monitors follow-up of the partner agencies on decisions.

We directly provide interagency support to the cabinet-level officials on the Senior Policy Committee. As the JPDO Director, I continue to serve as Secretary LaHood’s advisor for NextGen and liaison to the partner agencies. In my prior role as NextGen advisor, I worked to institutionalize NextGen across the Office of the Secretary of Transportation while reaching out to the JPDO for multi-agency staff support. The realignment of the JPDO streamlines and solidifies that support.

The NextGen vision, expressed in the JPDO’s Concept of Operations, contains a wide variety of possible ideas that might be helpful to meet our Nation’s air traffic needs. However, neither the vision nor avenues being considered are static. NextGen capabilities are beginning to be implemented today, and as we gain experience, our past work will help us refine how we more effectively implement future NextGen goals.

Today’s world is different than the one in which the NextGen Concept of Operations was originally envisioned. The economy, the airlines, the environment, energy issues, and our security needs have changed dramatically. To account for these changes, we must take a more flexible approach to longer-term NextGen planning, blending evolution and transformation to meet the national needs for air transportation. We must test and prioritize our options against these realities.

My job is to refine our longer-term goals, by accounting for the changing realities of our aviation world. For example, more precise navigation (RNAV/RNP) is better understood to be an underpinning not only for capacity and efficiency, but may give us much better environmental performance as well. Conversely, the market of very light jets has diminished and our plans should reflect that. We also need to recognize that NextGen capabilities will be implemented where they are needed and best suited; for example, closely spaced parallel runways won’t be a solution for everyone — only for some airports.

With this in mind, we expect that by 2025, our system will still rely on pilots and air traffic controllers, but their roles will be different than they are today, and may be different from what we currently predict them to be in 2025. We want to make sure that they will have the tools and systems they need to perform their functions safely and effectively.

We also intend to continue to consult with industry as we move forward. Given where we are in implementation, we are assessing how industry can best contribute to longer-range plans, and I have asked some of our industry groups to give me ideas on how best to leverage their expertise and input.

The JPDO has some past successes that I plan to build on with regard to interagency cooperation. We can use our experiences working in these contexts as models for future interagency coordination on other projects.

For example, the JPDO is working with the Department of Commerce (through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)), FAA, and DOD on developing a vision for aviation weather management that is focused on the aviation user. We need to know how to best put weather information in a format that can be used by pilots, controllers, and dispatchers. The concept, called NextGen Network Enabled Weather (NNEW) enables the publication of the same weather information to all airspace users. NOAA’s role is to provide quality weather data to all its users including weather that meets the FAA’s Air Traffic Control (ATC) requirements. The FAA integrates the weather forecast information into tools expressly for air traffic management. The JPDO facilitates an active senior executive panel, known as the NextGen Executive Weather Panel, who oversaw the development of a joint program plan. A technology transition team will work out the specific technical requirements. A prototype demonstration will connect interagency products thus demonstrating information sharing protocols.

As the new Director of the JPDO, I am looking at all of the possibilities for successful interagency cooperation. We are fortunate that with the increased visibility and responsibility of the JPDO, and the Administration’s focus on NextGen, we now have even more tools in the toolbox to choose from to ensure productive partnerships throughout the government. Of course, the more productive these cooperative efforts are, the better service the FAA can provide to the traveling public.

Chairman Costello, Ranking Member Petri, Members of the Subcommittee, thank you again for inviting me here today. This concludes my prepared remarks. I would be happy to answer any questions that you may have.

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