"Redoubling Our Efforts"
J. Randolph Babbitt, Hartford, CT
September 23, 2011

AOPA Summit

(Remarks as Prepared for Delivery)

Hello, Craig (Fuller) and thank you for inviting me to join you today.   I always enjoy coming to the AOPA Summit.  As your website says, there's “aviation action”--great phrase--for all ages and all levels of aviation enthusiasm.  It's also a nice combination of fun and serious discussion about the challenges this industry faces today. 

On that subject, let me take a few minutes to talk about what's taking my time these days.  Safety is the FAA's primary mission and top priority.  I'm proud to say that we have the safest aviation system in the world, bar none.  Millions of Americans travel safely through our skies every year.  And the number of airplanes in Hartford this week is proof that general aviation can provide safe transportation, not to mention a lot of fun, for people who love aviation.

But I am still very troubled by the number of fatal accidents we see in general aviation.  The long-term trend was moving down, in part due to all the work we have done together.  But it has leveled out over the past 4-5 years.  The summer of 2011 has been an especially painful time.  Between June and September, we have lost 195 people in 114 GA fatal accidents.  That hurts all of us. 

We don't always have a good handle on what causes general aviation accidents.  But one thing we do know is that there is usually a chain of events that leads to an accident … and the human element is almost always a link in that chain.   That's why I have been talking about professionalism since Day One as FAA Administrator. 

I want to thank AOPA, EAA, and others in the general aviation industry like GAMA, NATA, NAFI, and SAFE for being so helpful in getting the word out to your members. We can have all the programs in the world, but it means nothing if we can't get through at the grassroots level.  Working together, we can, and we must, redouble our efforts to figure out what's driving these accidents and get the needles moving in the right direction. 

Speaking of working together:  I am very pleased today to announce an initiative we are taking to update the aeronautical knowledge training and testing materials used for pilot and instructor certification.   Specifically, we are chartering an Aviation Rulemaking Committee to make recommendations on improving these materials. 

This initiative is part of our five-year plan for transforming GA safety.  Like other parts of this plan, it's something we are doing in partnership with the aviation community.  We don't have all the answers for GA safety, so we need your help.  The people who work day in, day out on the flight lines of aviation safety, training and assessment are the ones with the best insight on what kind of knowledge pilots need to operate safely in today's national airspace system.  You are the ones who know how to teach it.  And you know how to measure it through good testing.  We're going to be knocking on some of your doors very soon to ask for participation. 

Speaking of participation, let me also thank AOPA and other organizations here today for working with us on our Airport System Strategic Evaluation Task Study (ASSET).  Everyone in this audience understands the vital role that GA, and GA airports, play in our national aviation system.  Our study, conducted with your input, will help us better define and explain the role of GA airports.  We expect to have the final report early next year. 

Now let me turn to another big part of our mission:  NextGen.  NextGen is the complete transformation of our national airspace system from ground-based navigation and radar to satellite-based navigation and surveillance.  It is one of the most important things we can do to improve safety and efficiency in a system that is vital to the American people and to our country's economic health.  Civil aviation accounts for more than 11.5 million jobs, and those jobs produce $396 billion in wages.  

NextGen technology is already taking us to the next level of safety and efficiency, and it is also helping us to make aviation more friendly to the environment.  I'm curious about something.  Raise your hand if you have ever flown a WAAS-enabled RNAV GPS approach, such as an LPV approach.  Great stuff, isn't it?  If you raised your hand, then you're already benefiting from the satellite-based navigation elements of NextGen.  And I bet you'd agree that the investment you made to equip with a WAAS-capable GPS navigator paid off the first time an LPV approach got you into the airport where you wanted to land.

Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, or ADS-B, is another investment that will pay off in terms of safety, efficiency, and situational awareness--not only for air traffic control, but also for you.  ATC uses ADS-B to improve surveillance and separation, and to provide those services in areas that radar can't reach, such as the Gulf of Mexico. That's why we are requiring ADS-B Out by 2020 to operate in certain kinds of airspace.   But ADS-B In can also benefit pilots. 

How many subscribe to some kind of weather service?  Again, it's great stuff.  Most pilots I know are amazed by how these services expand situational awareness.  They're like GPS: once you've flown with this kind of information, you don't want to go back to flying without it. 

ADS-B In will provide traffic and weather information right to your cockpit display, with no need for a subscription.  And it may not take that long for the cost of acquiring and installing new equipment to pay for itself in savings from the subscriptions you buy right now.  

And here's another reason to put ADS-B on your equipment upgrade list.  A lot of the efficiencies we expect from ADS-B and other NextGen technologies depend on a system where most aircraft are using them.  In most circumstances right now, the best equipped aircraft will be best placed to benefit from the many efficiencies that this equipment enables.  And more ADS-B equipped aircraft mean more efficient operations for everyone. 

Some of you have asked what benefit there is for non-IFR aircraft in the system.  You don't have to be flying IFR to benefit from traffic information and weather information.  You don't have to be on an IFR flight plan to benefit from VFR flight following in places with little or no radar coverage.  Everyone will benefit from the airspace management efficiencies we can get from using ADS-B and other NextGen technologies.

I've been around this business for my entire life--I started as a line boy in Florida, and later worked as a flight instructor before moving on to the airlines and eventually to the seat I have now at FAA headquarters.  I have seen a lot of change over the years because of advances in airframes, avionics, and airspace management.  I have to say, though, that this position has given me a whole new appreciation for both the present-day value and the future benefits of NextGen.   I am convinced that it won't be too long before we look at some of today's technologies with the same kind of grins we have now when we hear about coffee grinder avionics and A-N radio ranges. 

Let me close today with an update on what is happening at the FAA.  The taxpayers have entrusted us with operating the safest aviation system in the world.  We will keep doing that--we will not compromise safety. 

But it was a very challenging summer, especially when the July funding lapse forced us to furlough nearly 4,000 FAA employees.  And it wasn't just about FAA employees.  As a result of the lack of an authorization, we had to stop work on over 200 aviation construction and research projects across the country.  Thousands of people in the construction trade had to go home and suspend work on a number of critical projects around the country. 

We were relieved to get the immediate crisis resolved, but we still need a long-term FAA funding bill in order to give the taxpayers the aviation system this country deserves.  Since September 2007, Congress has passed short-term extensions of the FAA's spending authorization 22 separate times.  It's tough to plan and execute the kind of long-term programs we need when funding comes in 30- and 90-day increments.   We will continue to work with Congress to craft the kind of legislation that our aviation system needs and that the American people deserve.

Again, it's great to be here with people who are so enthusiastic about aviation in this country, and thank you for all you do to keep it strong.  Thank you, and now let me turn it back over to Craig.