November 8, 2011

Statement of J. Randolph Babbitt, Administrator

Before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation, "Oral Testimony" on Leveraging Public, Private, & Academic Resources

Chairman Mica, Congressman Petri, members of the committee:  Thank you for the opportunity to highlight the capabilities of the Florida NextGen Test Bed. This facility represents an exciting expansion of the Federal Aviation Administration’s NextGen testing operations. I am pleased to be able to join you here in Florida.

The FAA’s three NextGen Test Beds – here in Florida, in Atlantic City, and in North Texas – provide real-world testing and demonstration environments that facilitate research and development, as well as real-world demonstrations and evaluations. They offer a range of resources to develop NextGen concepts and technologies.

Today, we are marking the completion of renovations and enhancements to the Florida NextGen Test Bed.  Those enhancements equip this facility to handle not just today’s tests and demonstrations, but also the ideas and innovations of tomorrow.  It will give us the ability to integrate the full range of NextGen systems and evaluate operational impacts.  The dozen systems it houses today are just the beginning. The Florida test bed will be constantly modified as we complete demonstrations and engineer additional platforms. 

We look forward to the new technologies the test bed will yield.  This is a great facility with the capacity for innovation and early prototype testing as well as demonstrations. The access to resources at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University enhances its effectiveness.  This combination will make it the birthplace of industry driven concepts that advance NextGen and its benefits.

The FAA has awarded $22 million toward NextGen-related research and development through an agreement with Embry-Riddle. This agreement enables the FAA to leverage the experience and expertise of the Florida test bed’s many industry partners.  It has resulted in NextGen solutions that are the product of industry collaboration, and we expect to see even more exciting developments ahead.   

Although we are pleased to cut the ribbon here and witness demonstrations of the cutting-edge systems running in the test bed environment, this event is more than just a celebration of what we have already accomplished.  It is also a call urging our industry partners to take advantage of the promise of the public-private partnership this facility represents.  

We look forward to the evolution of our air transportation system and the long-term benefits we are working to achieve through NextGen – the comprehensive overhaul of our national airspace system.  NextGen will make air travel more convenient and dependable, while improving safety and efficiency.  NextGen is already a better way of doing business – for the FAA, the airlines, the airports, and the traveling public. It’s better for safety, better for our environment, better for efficiency and flexibility, and better for the economy.

Congress has appropriated about $2.8 billion for NextGen in the last five years.  And the President has requested $1 billion in the American Jobs Act for NextGen.  We will continue to invest in coming years and these investments will have substantial returns. Our latest estimates show that FAA will recoup our initial investment by 2018.  By then, NextGen air traffic management improvements will reduce total flight and ground delays by about 35 percent, compared with what would happen if we maintained the current system. This delay reduction will provide $23 billion in cumulative benefits to aircraft operators, the traveling public, and the FAA. We will save about 1.4 billion gallons of fuel, cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 14 million tons.

NextGen benefits depend on getting stakeholders to invest in the avionics, ground equipment, staffing, training, and procedures they will need to take advantage of the infrastructure that the FAA establishes. Their willingness to make these investments depends, in turn, on the business case – their assessment of how valuable the benefits will be, and their confidence that the FAA can deliver in the time frames and manner required to realize those benefits.

Facilities like the Florida NextGen Test Bed help make that case.  Demonstrations and operational trials of specific NextGen systems and procedures let stakeholders see the very real benefits NextGen can bring. They mitigate program risks.  They show us whether we are on the right track in our technical approaches. The Florida NextGen Test Bed will spur innovation and will spur collaboration with industry to speed the realization of the many benefits NextGen has to offer.

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 pleased to answer any questions you may have.