February 5, 2014

Statement of Michael Huerta, Administrator

Before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation on FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 – Two Years Later

Chairman LoBiondo, Ranking Member Larsen, Chairman Shuster and members of the Subcommittee, it’s a pleasure to be here to talk about what we have accomplished since the very important reauthorization of the FAA two years ago.

We are grateful that everyone came together to reauthorize the FAA and support the work we do in running the largest and safest aerospace system in the world.

We also appreciate the compromise spending bill that Congress passed in December. It provides a framework that lends stability for the next two years during what may still be an uncertain budget environment.

The reauthorization of the FAA was truly comprehensive in nature and contained more than 200 deliverables from the FAA. We have either completed, or are on track to complete, more than 80 percent of those requirements. I’d like to highlight a few areas where Congress gave us direction, and where we have made considerable progress.

First, we have strong leadership in place for NextGen. Last time I appeared before you we had just named Mike Whitaker as Deputy Administrator of the FAA and Chief NextGen officer, a role that was mandated by the reauthorization.  Now, General Ed Bolton has joined the FAA as Assistant Administrator for NextGen. He is a retired Air Force general with many years of experience as an engineer and manager of large, complex programs.

We want to be sure that the modernization of our nation’s airspace is creating benefits. As part of reauthorization, Congress asked us to track 12 metrics – things like arrival and departure rates; system capacity; and gate-to-gate travel times, to name a few. These metrics can help determine the impact our work is having on airlines and passengers. We are collecting these data and posting them every month on our public website.

And we are close to finalizing the software and hardware updates to our air traffic control system that will form the foundation of NextGen and will allow us to deliver those benefits.

One essential program is ERAM – the En Route Automation Modernization. This modern computer system will control aircraft at cruising altitudes. We are making great progress and right now, 18 of our 20 en route centers have started running ERAM. More than half are using it exclusively to control air traffic, instead of the legacy system of the 1960s. All these en route centers are expected to use the new system exclusively by March of 2015.

I’d like to turn to another mandate in the reauthorization – namely unmanned aircraft systems. This class of vehicle is truly a game changer. The FAA released two documents in November to set the stage:  A comprehensive plan to integrate unmanned aircraft into our nation’s airspace and a detailed roadmap for how to do it.  The roadmap addresses the policies, the regulations, the technologies, and procedures we will need to integrate unmanned aircraft on a routine basis. To accomplish this, we must change the way we do business. 

In December, we announced six test sites across the nation that will conduct essential research into the safe use of unmanned systems.

Safety is our priority. We need to address operational issues, such as ensuring that unmanned aircraft can detect and avoid other aircraft; and that unmanned systems operate safely if they lose the link to their pilot; and this is why developing additional research data from the test sites is so important.

Agencies across the government are coming together to address privacy concerns that may arise with the increasing use of unmanned aircraft. We recognize there has been a great deal of public concern about privacy. For the test sites, we have issued a privacy policy that requiresoperators to comply with all local, state and federal laws concerning privacy and civil liberties.

The FAA has successfully brought new technology into the aviation system for more than 50 years, and I have no doubt we will do the same with unmanned aircraft.

Finally, we’ve completed work on a range of other important reauthorization provisions. Last fall, we created the Center of Excellence for alternative jet fuels and the environment. This research will help developand deploy alternative jet fuels, which will provide supplemental supply and help to cushion petroleum’s price volatility. We’ve also completed reports on a number of safety related matters, such as staffing for safety critical positions. And wedelivered a report to Congress, as requested, reviewing the agency’s operations, and ensuring that we take every opportunity to operate as efficiently and effectively as possible. 

Two years ago, reauthorization gave our agency needed predictability and stability, as well as guidance on priorities. Next year, we will be considering FAA reauthorization in the context of a challenging fiscal backdrop, with increasing demands. I look forward to continuing to work with you on creating that vision as we work on the next reauthorization.

Thank you very much and I am happy to answer any questions.