October 5, 2011

Statement of Michael Huerta, Deputy Administrator

Before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation on Benefits of the Next Generation Air Transportation System


Oral Testimony

Chairman Petri, Congressman Costello, members of the Subcommittee: Thank you for this opportunity to discuss the benefits of NextGen. I am pleased to appear before you for the first time.

NextGen is a comprehensive overhaul of our aviation system to make air travel more efficient, and dependable – while keeping you safe in the skies. It’s a continuous roll-out of new procedures and technology that will save fuel, reduce noise and cut pollution. NextGen is a better way of doing business – for the FAA, airlines, airports and the traveling public.

Civil aviation contributes $1.3 trillion to our economy and generates more than 10 million jobs. NextGen is vital to protecting these contributions. The current system simply cannot accommodate anticipated growth.

President Obama recognizes the economic importance of NextGen. The American Jobs Act includes $1 billion to continue our research and development to advance this transformation. The act also proposes $2 billion for airport improvements for runways, taxiways and terminals.

The United States has invested nearly $3 billion in NextGen. Why? Because our latest estimates show that NextGen will reduce delays about 35 percent in the next seven years. It will bring $23 billion in cumulative benefits. We will save about 1.4 billion gallons of jet fuel, and cut carbon dioxide emissions by 14 million tons.

Let me highlight some examples where NextGen is already improving safety, helping the environment and adding to the bottom line:

Helicopters equipped with GPS-based technology in the Gulf of Mexico now have improved safety where there was no radar coverage before. They are saving flight time and fuel. In Colorado, NextGen enables controllers to track aircraft through mountains that block radar, enhancing safety.

Airlines are benefiting from NextGen routes and approaches that allow more direct flights. Southwest Airlines says it could save $25 for every mile cut by using a shorter route. By using precise NextGen procedures in Juneau, Alaska Airlines estimates it avoided cancelling more than 700 flights last year due to bad weather. And UPS estimates it will save as much as 30 percent on fuel during the arrival phase of flights into its Louisville hub.

Environmental benefits are clear: Burning less fuel produces less carbon dioxide and other harmful emissions.

Through the “Greener Skies over Seattle” initiative, airlines using NextGen procedures will save several millions of dollars per year. Aircraft will emit about 22,000 metric tons less carbon dioxide per year – the equivalent of taking more than 4,000 cars off the streets.

A true transformation takes planning and time. So let me now describe some of the longer-range benefits.

NextGen will make our aviation system safer. It will increase controllers’ and pilots’ ability to avoid potential danger. Equipped aircraft will receive information about traffic, weather, and flight-restricted areas. On the ground, advances in tracking will make runways safer.

We are working in a focused way to relieve congestion and tarmac delays in major metropolitan areas, including here in Washington, Houston, Atlanta, Charlotte, North Texas and California

To fully achieve these benefits, we must do two things: make sure the FAA is able to properly manage the NextGen transformation, and second, we need to continue working with our partners in the aviation community.

We appreciate congressional approval for the reprogramming request we submitted this summer. A streamlined NextGen office that reports to me, in addition to other organizational changes that improve efficiency, will help the FAA meet the needs of our nation’s air transportation system.

NextGen will only be successful if we work closely with the aviation community. We established a broad-based panel – the NextGen Advisory Committee – to provide guidance and recommendations. We need their help to forge industry consensus on how to equip for NextGen and how to measure our successes.

There is a chicken-and-egg nature to the decisions that will influence the extent and timing of NextGen benefits. The future depends on stakeholders’ willingness to invest in equipment, staffing and training.

NextGen is happening now. If we delay investment, the long term cost to our nation – to our passengers and our environment – will far exceed the cost of going forward together at this time.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared remarks. I would be happy to answer any questions that you and the members of the Subcommittee may have.

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