"Opening Remarks"
Peggy Gilligan, New Orleans, Louisiana
June 8, 2010

2010 US/Europe International Aviation Safety Conference

Remarks as prepared for delivery

What a pleasure it is for our FAA team to meet with our partners in the European Aviation Safety Agency and from around the world. We’ve been very fortunate over the years to develop a mutually beneficial partnership that’s built on our common values and a shared commitment to maintaining and continuously improving aviation safety — whenever and wherever an aircraft is in the sky. So it’s appropriate that we focus on “Global Safety Management: Evolving a Common Culture” during this conference.

By working together, industry and governments have made aviation the safest way to travel. But the real purpose of this conference is to find ways to work together to make aviation even safer. This partnership and meetings like this are our best hope to establish seamless and consistent standards of safety around the world. And working together and sharing expertise is the only way forward.

In that spirit, I want to take a minute to talk about the status of the FAA reauthorization bill. Obviously, this is a hot topic throughout the aviation community. So I’d like to update you on what’s going on.

As you may know, the House of Representatives passed its FAA reauthorization bill last year, and they updated their version on March 19 to include the Flight Safety Bill. Meanwhile the Senate unanimously approved its reauthorization bill on March 22. Because several significant differences exist in the two versions, the bills will have to be reconciled before the reauthorization can go to the President to be signed into law. So, right now, we all just have to wait to see what the final bill holds.

It’s important to note, though, how something like the FAA reauthorization bill has a ripple effect throughout our industry. It speaks to how interdependent our global aviation community is.

Our industry is really made up of an international network of networks, and if one network in our international community falls short in its commitment to safety, the integrity of the entire international airspace system is compromised. On the other hand, improvements in aviation safety in any one part of the world benefit aviation across the globe.

The shared challenge for governments and industry is to protect our connections and find mutually beneficial solutions to the everyday problems we face.

That’s why creating a common safety culture is so important.

Perhaps the best recent example of this can be seen in how air travel was affected by a volcanic eruption in Iceland in March. The ash spewing from the volcano caused countless cancellations, delays, and even airport closures. By some estimates, airlines lost over $1.7 billion in revenue and canceled flights exceeded 100,000.

However, our charge as stewards of aviation safety was to ensure safety was never compromised. Fortunately, we’re part of an international community. So we were able to share information, ideas, best practices and lessons learned with each other to determine our individual approaches to maintaining safety throughout this ordeal. And when our community realized the need for harmonization, the International Civil Aviation Organization pulled all of us together to work the problem.

This is just one example of something happening in one part of the world having implications on our global airspace system.

As interdependencies among nations increase and as we continue to address the shared challenges we face, we need to understand that the initiatives we implement and the data we share have an impact not only where we live but everywhere airplanes fly.

In the spirit of that partnership, I’d like to take a few minutes to share with you some important changes and initiatives the FAA is undertaking to improve our safety culture.

To meet future demand and avoid gridlock in the sky and at airports, we’ve begun the process of completely transforming our national airspace system. The Next Generation Air Transportation System — or NextGen — is the blueprint for changing our National Airspace System from a World War II-era ground-based navigation, radar and voice communication system to a modern satellite and performance-based system. This is a huge undertaking that will integrate policy, technology and procedures to revolutionize operation in the NAS.

This can only be accomplished through a proactive approach to safety management, supported by a strong safety culture in which every member of the team is empowered and equipped to ensure safety is never compromised and always continuously improved. That’s why we’re implementing a robust Safety Management System or SMS that will use a process-oriented approach to safety to proactively identify, manage, and prioritize areas of risk and promote the growth and sustainment of a safety culture. When fully implemented, SMS will enable us to adapt to changes and continuously improve safety in the air transportation system. And our work is well underway.

We’ve identified areas where we can begin to implement SMS requirements. We’ve created training for new employees on basic SMS principles, and we’ve increased safety awareness for all employees through improved safety communications.

That’s just the beginning though. We’ve also created a broad database of incident data to ensure a strong reporting culture.

As part of our overall safety goals, we implemented the Air Traffic Safety Action Program — or ATSAP — a system for our air traffic controllers to voluntarily identify and report safety and operational concerns. Patterned after similar programs at US Airlines, the collected information is reviewed and analyzed to facilitate early detection and improve awareness of operational deficiencies and adverse trends. The information specified in employee reports is used to identify the root causes and determine appropriate remedial actions which are then monitored for effectiveness. This process promotes collaboration between employee work groups and management for the early identification of hazards. It also maintains a proactive approach regarding safety concerns and corrective action recommendations. The program is non-punitive, and serves as an additional layer in our safety culture.

The FAA’s Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing program or ASIAS is another tool we’re using to improve our margin of safety. Through ASIAS, we’re able to gather crucial safety information from a number of data sources. Then using sophisticated analysis tools, we’re able to analyze that data to detect trends, identify precursors, and assess risks.

The significance of this program cannot be overstated because monitoring the safety of the NAS is critical to rapidly finding and correcting risks as changes to operations are made with NextGen.

ATSAP and ASIAS are just two examples of specific tools we’re using to continually update and improve our approach to managing safety.

We also have specific NextGen operational capabilities that address key risk areas. For example, Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast or ADS-B enables pilots of equipped planes to see airborne traffic, weather conditions and flight-restricted areas on their cockpit displays, allowing them to avoid potential dangers. We also anticipate that advances in tracking and managing operations on airport surfaces will make runway collisions less likely.

As we implement these changes, we understand safety could easily be overlooked or compromised in the process, but we’re committed to ensuring that does not happen. As proof of our commitment to safety, we released the AVS Work Plan for NextGen last month. This work plan explains how my organization supports NextGen, and lays out major deliverables the Aviation Safety workforce will contribute toward the successful implementation of NextGen. The bottom line is: our focus is on ensuring every new technology we utilize, every new advancement we implement, not only maintains but also pushes the boundaries of managing safety.

So you can rest assured, the FAA is committed to expanding our Quality Management Systems; implementing an integrated Safety Management System; continuously improving our safety culture; creating successful, enduring partnerships; strengthening the global aviation infrastructure; building and maintaining bilateral and multilateral relationships; and negotiating agreements that improve aviation safety and efficiency worldwide.

I’m really proud of opportunities like this — opportunities to build better partnerships with members of our global aviation community — opportunities to ensure the safety of air travel around the world.

The globalization of aviation has and will continue to lead to new challenges for us all, and if we’re going to keep pace with increasing demand while maintaining our highest standards of safety, we have to work together.

Certainly, what we do here this week and in the future will play a key role in advancing aviation safety worldwide.

On behalf of the FAA team, I look forward to working with you this week.