June 25, 2014

Statement of Michael G. Whitaker, Deputy Administrator

Before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Subcommittee on Aviation on NextGen: A Review of Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities for Improving Aviation Safety and Efficiency


Thank you, Chairwoman Cantwell, Ranking Member Ayotte and members of the Subcommittee.  I am pleased to have the opportunity to be here today to highlight the progress the FAA and industry are making with NextGen. 

On June 3rd – my one year anniversary as the agency’s Chief NextGen Officer – I delivered my first Annual Report to Congress, as required by the 2012 Reauthorization Act.  The Report discusses the significant progress we’ve made with NextGen foundational programs, and underscores the benefits NextGen is delivering now.

For example, this year we completed one of the most crucial foundational elements of NextGen – the installation of the ground infrastructure for Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, or ADS-B. This represents a key milestone in transitioning from a ground-based radar system to satellite-based GPS technology.  ADS-B enables us to determine an aircraft’s location and track with far greater accuracy than radar. This, in turn, allows more precise and efficient spacing of aircraft, which enables airlines to take advantage of fuel-saving NextGen procedures.

This technology 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. 

We are also close to completing another major foundational element of NextGen – the software and hardware upgrades to our nation’s high altitude air traffic centers.  The ERAM program will be complete next Spring, allowing us to decommission the legacy system. 

Similar system upgrades in our approach centers – the TRACONs – are also on track and will be completed in our major TRACONs by 2016. 

In all, we are on track and nearing completion of the foundational phase of NextGen – the technology upgrades that will enable future capabilities to more efficiently and safely manage existing traffic and incorporate new users in the national air space. 

This puts us well on track to having all the ADS-B foundational technology completed well before the 2020 mandate for industry to equip with ADS-B Out. Both the FAA and industry must be held accountable if NextGen is to succeed. We arefulfilling our part of the bargain. Airlines and general aviation pilots must do their part and equip by the deadline to use the system we have built.

Let me be very clear. The 2020 deadline is not going to change.  We are in a position to achieve this important milestone on time.  The cost of equipment has come down considerably. There is sufficient maintenance capacity to allow all equipage to occur – in fact, waiting to equip might cost more if aircraft owners crowd repair stations to get the work done on the eve of the deadline.      

In addition to the foundational work, we have also made significant strides in working with industry to deliver benefits now.

One of my first actions upon joining the agency was to task the NextGen Advisory Committee – or NAC – to provide industry consensus on capabilities that may be delivered in the next one to three years. The NAC responded with a list in September, and since then we have worked together to hone in on four NextGen areas that will be our priority: performance based navigation; surface operations; multiple runway operations and DataComm.  Each of these areas can bring benefits to users in the near term. We are working with industry to craft milestones, agree on metrics, and track our progress on these initiatives.

Much of this work has already been underway.  Just last week, Secretary Foxx and FAA Administrator Huerta announced the completion of the Houston Metroplex. The Obama Administration selected this project as one of 14 high-priority infrastructure projects ideal for expedited completion.

In 30 months, working with industry, we were able to transform Houston’s airspace, thanks to close collaboration with labor, environmental streamlining and concurrent reviews.We flipped the switch on 61 new procedures that take advantage of the precision of GPS technology to untangle the congested airspace shared by multiple airports. These new procedures are estimated to save airlines 3 million gallons of fuel per year while reducing carbon emissions by 31,000 metric tons. That’s the equivalent of removing more than 6,000 cars from the streets of Houston.

We plan to replicate or improve upon these benefits at more than a dozen other busy metropolitan areas across the country.

The FAA is focused on delivering benefits to airspace users today, while also completing the foundational programs of NextGen. As these foundational programs are complete over the next 24 months, we are also focusing on the years beyond – the deployment of surface DataCom through 2018, and full ADS-B equipage in 2020.  We are on track with NextGen, but it is important that we continue to work together – the FAA, industry and Congress – to keep NextGen funded and moving forward. By working together we have the ability to transform our nation’s airspace system for the benefit of generations to come.

Thank you again for the opportunity to be here today, and I’m pleased to answer any questions you might have.

###