May 16, 2013

Statement of Michael Huerta, Administrator

Before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Subcommittee on FAA Reauthorization – One Year Later


Oral Testimony:

Chairman LoBiondo, Ranking Member Larsen, and Members of the Subcommittee: A year ago, Congress reauthorized the Federal Aviation Administration after four and a half years of uncertainty and stop-gap measures. The biggest benefit of reauthorization was that it would provide predictability and allow us to invest with greater certainty in the future. So we’re grateful for your effort on this, and we have been working very diligently in the past year to implement the provisions of reauthorization.

Safety

As we move forward, the number one mission of the FAA is safety. That will always be our priority.

In the last few years, Congress has given us much guidance on how to advance aviation safety. And we have accomplished a great deal. The FAA overhauled flight and duty rules to guarantee that airline pilots have the opportunity to get the rest they need to operate safely. And we are raising the required number of hours of experience before a pilot can operate the controls of any airline flight. We are also finalizing a rule that will require more rigorous and training so that flight crews can better handle rare but serious scenarios.

We are also improving our safety culture at the FAA and throughout the industry by voluntarily reporting hazards before they become a problem, and by adopting safety management systems. Internally, we created the Aviation Safety Whistleblower Investigation Office. One of the cornerstones of our safety culture is to ensure that employees can provide information without fear of reprisal.

Technology

While we are enhancing the safety of the system that we know today, we are also working to deliver the benefits of new technology to create the aviation system of tomorrow, through NextGen.

We are working to safely integrate Unmanned Aircraft Systems into our airspace. Earlier this year – as directed by Congress in the reauthorization – we requested proposals to host six sites across the country to test unmanned aircraft systems. This is a matter of significant public interest. We need to better understand operational issues to safely integrate these aircraft into our airspace. We need to explore pilot training and make sure that unmanned aircraft sense and avoid other aircraft. And, if they lose the link to their ground-based pilot, these aircraft need to operate safely.

Collaboration

If we are going to continue to move aviation forward, and remain a world leader, we need to collaborate across the FAA, as well as with other government agencies, and also with industry. Reauthorization asked us to do this, and we have made great strides in collaborative efforts.

Chairman LoBiondo, as you know, Atlantic City is a leader in NextGen research. The William J. Hughes Technical Center plays a key role in fostering NextGen, and we appreciate your support.

We have worked with our labor unions, industry, airports and others to address the problem of congested airspace over busy metropolitan areas. We are producing satellite-based procedures much more quickly. And we’re using these NextGen procedures right now to reduce the miles that aircraft must fly; to create more direct routes, cut delays; and to reduce fuel burn and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

We are pleased that the President has announced his intent to appoint Michael Whitaker as Deputy Administrator of the FAA. Mr. Whitaker is a veteran of the airline industry and would serve as the FAA’s Chief NextGen Officer, responsible for fostering the transformation of our nation’s airspace.

The FAA has an initial set of NextGen metrics available on our website, and we expect to publish additional performance metrics in the coming months. Our NextGen Performance Snapshots show that NextGen is happening now.

For example in Chicago, we have been able to reduce delays at O’Hare International Airport in bad weather thanks to NextGen. O’Hare and nearby Midway International have overlapping airspace at times. We made better use of this congested airspace in the past two years with a satellite-based procedure that aircraft use when flying into Midway. This procedure has allowed O’Hare to improve its arrival rate by eight to 12 aircraft per hour when it’s rainy or foggy and the ceilings are low. And aircraft flying into Midway travel fewer miles and save fuel. This is one of the many positive effects of NextGen and the type of improvement that reauthorization supports.

The reauthorization laid out a vision to address the future needs of our nation’s aviation system. And these needs have not gone away. It’s important for us to work together to protect the great contribution that civil aviation makes to our economy of $1.3 trillion and 10 million jobs.

As you know, we are again facing fiscal uncertainty and unpredictability. The sequester is requiring the FAA to make sizeable budget cuts that affect our operations and our future. While we are grateful that Congress found a temporary solution to the FAA furloughs, this stop-gap measure does not end the sequester.

We will not enjoy the benefits or the stability that reauthorization provides until we end the sequester and find a sensible long-term solution.

I sincerely hope that we can work together to ensure that America continues to operate the safest and most efficient aviation system in the world.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared remarks. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.

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