March 11, 2014

Statement of Michael G. Whitaker, Deputy Administrator

Before the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Subcommittee on Aviation on Moving NextGen Forward: Leveraging the Assets of the William J. Hughes Technical Center

Good afternoon, Chairman LoBiondo and Ranking member Larsen.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.

Before we begin, I would like to take a moment on behalf of the agency, to say that our hearts go out to the families of those on Malaysian Air flight 370.  On Saturday, the FAA sent representatives as part of the NTSB investigative team, supporting the Malaysian government with the accident investigation.  The United States Government is in communication across agencies and with international officials to provide any additional assistance necessary.

Turning to the matter at hand—the Tech Center—I’m pleased to have the opportunity to highlight this facility’s vital role in deploying NextGen … and in integrating unmanned aircraft into our nation’s airspace.   

Let me start by noting that we are nearly complete with the foundation of NextGen.  This foundation includes a much-needed upgrade of the automation in our air traffic control facilities … and the building of ground stations to enable the transition from a radar-based to a satellite-based system.

  • Right now, 18 of our 20 en route centers have started running ERAM to control traffic in high altitude airspace.  More than half are using it exclusively to control air traffic, instead of the legacy system from the 1960s.  All 20 en route centers are expected to be running ERAM exclusively by March of next year, which will allow us to pull down the legacy Host system.
  • We’re also upgrading the computer system that runs the lower altitude airspace closer to airports.  This project – TAMR – requires switching out computer processors, screens and software in more than 150 TRACON facilities across the country.
  • And throughout the United States, we have installed more than 95 percent of the ground stations for ADS-B … and we will complete the baseline installation this month.  With this technology, we’ll achieve more precise surveillance of aircraft, which will make the air traffic system safer and more efficient.
  • In addition to this foundation, we continue to implement performance based navigation procedures.  PBN allows NextGen-equipped aircraft to fly on more direct paths across the country and in congested airspace.  These advanced navigation procedures are cutting flight time and reducing fuel burn and emissions. 

This is all good progress … but it’s just the beginning.  Completing NextGen’s foundation will enable new capabilities that will make aviation safer, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly. 

NextGen technologies are also making it possible to safely introduce unmanned aircraft into the airspace system.  Let me give you a few examples of the connection between NextGen and unmanned aircraft systems. 

In order for many unmanned aircraft to operate safely in shared airspace, we must develop technologies that enable them to “detect and avoid” other airborne vehicles.  The agency is researching and developing a collision avoidance system specifically designed for unmanned aircraft.  It’s a technology called ACAS-Xu.  The Tech Center will be aiding this effort by conducting flight testing.  

Also, ADS-B can help achieve collision avoidance through more precise surveillance – and separation – of both manned and unmanned aircraft in the same vicinity.        

Another NextGen technology that will support unmanned aircraft is NAS Voice System.  NVS modernizes the voice communication capabilities that we use for air traffic services.  It will enable controllers to communicate with the ground pilot of an unmanned vehicle … even if that pilot is located on the other side of the country. 

With its world-class laboratories and engineering expertise, the FAA’s Tech Center plays a central role both in the deployment of NextGen … and in the safe introduction of unmanned aircraft.  As you mentioned, this past December, we announced the selection of six test sites for unmanned aircraft across the country.  These test sites, which include state governments and public universities, will provide data to help us determine the safety certification and navigation requirements for unmanned systems.     

We expect that a significant portion of the test site data collection and analysis will take place at the Technical Center. 

Later this year, we’ll be conducting simulation modeling for the Department of Defense to assist them in standardizing procedures for unmanned aircraft across the various branches of the military.  The FAA is working with other government agencies including NASA and the Department of Homeland Security on unmanned aircraft projects.  By working with other agencies here at the Tech Center, we’re able to leverage each other’s expertise and resources, and minimize the duplication of efforts. 

Let me close by saying that NextGen is already delivering benefits across the country.  We’ve made great progress toward completing the foundation of NextGen … and we’re well positioned to reap more benefits in air traffic efficiency, reduced delays, fuel savings and environmental improvements.

The Tech Center is enabling us to realize these benefits … and enabling us to safely introduce unmanned aircraft.      

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my remarks. I would be happy to take any questions.