June 11, 2014

Statement of Michael Huerta, Administrator

Before the House Small Business Committee on FAA’s 2020 NextGen Mandate: Benefits and Challenges for General Aviation

Good afternoon, Chairman Graves, Ranking Member Velázquez and members of the Committee. And thank you for the opportunity to speak today about NextGen and the benefits and challenges of equipping aircraft to take advantage of NextGen capabilities. 

Even though it’s been more than 100 years since the Wright Brothers made history at Kitty Hawk, the thrill and wonder of flight comes alive each time a general aviation pilot takes to the skies.

Our aircraft are far safer today and more powerful. And NextGen procedures give general aviation pilots unprecedented access to runways across America thanks to GPS. NextGen technology brings weather and traffic information to the cockpit, and gives pilots better situational awareness, which enhances safety.

The entrepreneurial spirit shown by the Wright Brothers – which this committee supports – is alive and well in general aviation. This industry contributes about $40 billion per year to our nation’s gross domestic product, and it creates a half million jobs. NextGen strengthens this economic engine by making our nation’s airspace more efficient.  

One of the foundations of NextGen is satellite-based surveillance. The technical name is Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast, or ADS-B. We have completed installing the ground infrastructure required for ADS-B – more than 630 transceivers nationwide. This is an extremely important milestone, and I’m proud of the work that has brought us to this point.

But what does this mean? What benefits does this bring the general aviation pilot? There are considerable benefits available right now to those who equip with ADS-B, long before the 2020 mandate.

We now have ADS-B coverage in remote areas where radar coverage was limited before, such as the Gulf of Mexico, mountainous regions in Colorado, and low altitude airspace in Alaska. 

ADS-B helps pinpoint hazardous weather and gives pilots important flight information, such as temporary flight restrictions and notices to airmen. The highly precise GPS-based surveillance provided by ADS-B is also improving our ability to perform life-saving search and rescue operations. Air traffic controllers have better information about an airplane’s last position, thus helping to take the “search” out of search and rescue.  

ADS-B technology allows general aviation pilots – for the first time – to see much of what air traffic controllers see. Cockpit displays show the location of aircraft in the sky around them, creating an environment of shared situational awareness.  Pilots are already seeing the additional benefits of ADS-B In – better weather, traffic and situational awareness – and we believe they will equip to enjoy these benefits.  ADS-B Out is a foundational element of NextGen that allows us to bring these benefits – and a host of others – to airspace users. 

I want to clarify that equipage for ADS-B Out will only be required in certain airspace. That airspace is where we require transponders today, so that aircraft can be seen by controllers. This of course includes around busy airports. If a pilot flies in uncontrolled airspace – where no transponder is required today – there is no requirement to equip the aircraft.

We are confident that the general aviation community sees the advantage of investing in new technology, and ADS-B is no exception. Right now, owners of 74,000 general aviation aircraft have chosen to equip with a type of GPS technology, known as Wide Area Augmentation, or WAAS. This is not required by any rule. WAAS allows pilots to use NextGen approaches at smaller airports that do not have instrument landing systems. This opens up access to airports across the country. Many WAAS receivers already come as a package with ADS-B Out.

Nevertheless, we are very aware that increased technology requires investment.  We are doing everything we can to facilitate low-cost alternatives for the general aviation community.  To meet the minimum requirements for ADS-B Out, you need three things: A GPS receiver; an extended squitter, or universal access transceiver; and an antenna. You can buy just these three things, or you can integrate with other technologies and capabilities. We’ve done a lot of work to certify a range of products, and companies are responding, which spurs competition in the marketplace.

We encourage aircraft owners to equip soon, so they can take advantage of the benefits of NextGen. The increased accuracy, predictability and enhanced safety that come with NextGen are taking aviation to heights that no one could have imagined in the early days of aviation. We appreciate your help in laying the groundwork for a modern air transportation system that will benefit generations to come.

This concludes my testimony today. Thank you for the opportunity to be here with you, and I look forward to answering your questions.