"Better Access with NextGen"
J. Randolph Babbitt, Atlanta, Georgia
May 17, 2011

American Association of Airport Executives

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Jim (Bennett) for that kind introduction. It’s great to be in Atlanta, home to the world’s busiest airport and to Delta Air Lines, UPS and several corporate flight departments. The business of Atlanta is business. So this is a great place to talk about the business of airports.

As Norm Crabtree, a longtime proponent of aviation in Ohio used to say, "The airport runway is the most important Main Street in any town.” 

That’s the case across the United States. It’s in our best interest for airports to maintain their runways and terminals, enhance safety and plan for the future. 

Atlanta has shown tremendous leadership and foresight in preparing to meet future demand. In the last five years, Hartsfield-Jackson has opened its fifth runway, which increased capacity by 30 percent. And the airport opened an end-around taxiway that eliminated more than 600 runway crossings per day, thus enhancing safety.  Atlanta is now looking ahead to handle the coming growth. 

The way we are all going to support growth across the system is to embrace NextGen. We are charting the transformation of our air traffic control system from the ground-based radar system of the last century to the satellite-based system of this century.

When people hear NextGen, they may think of the far-off future. But NextGen is happening now.

NextGen means better access to airports across the country.

Many general aviation airports are already seeing the benefits of greater access thanks to GPS-based approaches. The FAA has already published more than 2,400 approaches nationwide known as WAAS-LPV. As many of you know, that’s Wide Area Augmentation System and Localizer Performance with Vertical Guidance. We have hundreds more in the works. Approaches, that is, not acronyms.

These GPS-based approaches act just like Instrument Landing System, or “ILS,” approaches, yet there’s no airport equipment to buy, install or maintain. More airports all over the country can now have very precise, low cost approaches that open them up to general aviation aircraft in all kinds of weather.

Let’s look at another example of what NextGen can do for us.

GPS-based area navigation and required navigation performance – known as RNAV-RNP—increase throughput and efficiency at an airport.

Use of RNAV departure and arrival procedures here in Atlanta at Hartsfield-Jackson International, and many other airports across the country, has dramatically improved efficiency and saved operators such as Delta Air Lines millions of dollars.

 Alaska Airlines has been a leader in using RNP approach procedures at Juneau International Airport. They can fly precisely through mountainous terrain in low visibility conditions thanks to the higher accuracy of GPS.

The airline estimates it would have cancelled 729 flights last year into Juneau alone due to bad weather if it were not for the GPS-based RNP approaches. Those were passengers who got in. No diversions. No ground holds.

More than 250 of these “RNP” procedures are now published in the U.S. and available for use by nearly 2,000 airline and business aviation aircraft.

We are working with Alaska Airlines, the Port of Seattle and Boeing to further develop RNAV-RNP procedures at Seattle Tacoma International Airport. That is part of our “Greener Skies over Seattle” initiative. That project should save literally millions of gallons of fuel annually and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.  The procedure will also cut noise because the aircraft will remain over Puget Sound and away from neighborhoods during most of the final approach.

We estimate that airlines using GPS-based arrival and approach procedures at SeaTac will save a total of about $6.8 million per year at today’s fuel prices. And that number is only going to increase as more airlines equip. With the “Greener Skies over Seattle” initiative, aircraft will emit less carbon dioxide – about 22,400 metric tons less per year. Let's look at it this way, that’s like taking 4,100 cars off the streets of the Seattle region.

We want to see this safety, efficiency and smaller carbon footprint system-wide.

So we are building on our experience and taking a coordinated approach to getting the most out of our airspace in busy metropolitan areas. We’ve identified 21 such areas. Rather than develop a procedure for one airport, we are bringing stakeholders to the table to talk about what we can do to improve airports in an entire metro area. 

Maybe we need RNAV or RNP procedures, or Optimized Profile Descents, or rerouting of flights or further FAA coordination with local governments. We are looking at the big picture to improve throughput at airports in a metro area as a whole.

We’ve already completed prototypes for the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area and Washington, D.C. And we’re finishing studies at Charlotte and Northern California. Next up: Houston, Atlanta and Southern California.

NextGen is a marriage of our runways, new satellite-based procedures, our airlines and flight crews. Together they will expand the capacity and efficiency of our system.

We are working to improve collaborative departure queue management to have safer, more efficient airports.

We’re already going in this direction at JFK and we have a pilot project in Memphis using NextGen software and algorithms to manage the queue for departure.

At JFK we have been working with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to improve airfield surface management.

What we’ve been able to do is collaborate on push-backs and deliver aircraft to the runway in a more timely fashion. We have reduced idling time and therefore reduced emissions.

We’re using ASDE-X with multi-lateration sensors that have been placed strategically all over the airport.  The bottom line is that it has given us greater situational awareness of aircraft on the airfield.

ASDE-X, coupled with a surface movement system, provides a virtual queue on a computer screen that projects the departure line-up for the next two to three hours. Our target is to have – at most – a line of between six to 10 aircraft waiting by the runway to takeoff.

Limiting the number of aircraft in the departure queue has been very helpful. When weather comes in and we need to turn the airport around and fly in the other direction, we have fewer aircraft to move – less than a dozen as opposed to several dozen.

It all adds up to a safer, more efficient operation.

Safety is the FAA’s number one priority and we are taking steps to build on the professionalism of our industry and enhance our safety culture.

Safety Management Systems, or SMS, will play a key role.

Last fall, the FAA proposed that most commercial airlines in the United States use SMS. We at the FAA are using safety management systems too. We also proposed that Part 139 certificated airports adopt SMS for airfield and ramp areas.

Here in Atlanta, Hartsfield-Jackson International was part of the first round of about 20 airports to start pilot programs for SMS.

This is good progress.

We are working to make the shift from a safety system that relies on forensics, to a more forward-looking approach where we use computer analyses to show us trends and help us make safety decisions.

I want to encourage reporting of risks and errors throughout the system because this issue is bigger than any one of us.  We want to take a holistic approach to the safety of our aviation system. 

We are already working with pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, dispatchers and air traffic controllers to do this.

No company or organization is too small for SMS. The key is, it doesn’t have to look the same everywhere.

If you have one airplane, you already have an SMS. It’s called a logbook. You write down your observations. You find risks and trends. You prioritize and mitigate them.

An SMS is scalable. You can tailor it to the size and complexity of your organization. It can be a series of databases, or it can be a yellow note pad.

More important, though, is that SMS is simply the right thing to do.  We need to step above and beyond where we are today, and just complying with the letter of the regulations is not enough to get us there.

The cost of SMS is far less than the cost of an accident and I think we can all agree on that point.

We have a lot of work on our plate to enhance safety, transform our aviation system to the Next Generation and improve efficiency. I want to close today with some thoughts about funding.

In order to accomplish all of our goals, the Federal Aviation Administration needs a multi-year reauthorization bill.  And we need a stable, predictable level of Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding for airport grants.

Reauthorization would allow us to help airports move forward with important infrastructure improvements that have been put on hold because of uncertainty about long-term funding.

It’s difficult to manage large-scale, long-term programs when there’s only enough money to pour 50 feet of concrete at a time. And it costs a lot more that way, meaning we get less bang for the buck.

The FAA has not had a steady source of funding for three-and-a-half-years, relying instead on 18 short-term extensions of its spending authority. Some extensions have kept the agency authorized just a few weeks at a time.

We are pleased that both the House and the Senate have passed reauthorization bills for the FAA. It is an important step forward. This is critical to the safety of the traveling public. It will improve our transportation infrastructure, generate new jobs and spur economic growth.

However, the authorized funding levels in the House bill are well below what the President proposed in his 2012 budget. Funding at these levels would degrade the safe and efficient movement of air traffic today and in the future. Additionally, the funding cuts in the House bill, combined with the revised entitlement formulas, could greatly affect discretionary funding and limit money available for phased projects and new starts.

The President's 2012 budget proposal called for a balanced and integrated approach to AIP funding.  The reduction in AIP spending for larger airports would be offset by an up-front boost in supplemental airport infrastructure funding and an increase in the passenger facility charge from the current $4.50 to $7.00.

It is imperative that any reduction in AIP is balanced by an increase in the passenger facility charge.

Delaying infrastructure investments means that the long term cost to our nation – to our passengers and our environment – will far exceed the cost of going forward with the technology today.

We appreciate your support and engagement in this issue. Working together, we can plan, engineer, build and preserve the airport infrastructure that is so vital to our national economy.

I want to thank you for your time today and I’ll open it up to questions.