Michael Huerta, Washington, DC
June 4, 2013
NextGen Advisory Committee
Sequester and Budget Update
Good morning and thank you, Bill, for that update. Thank you all for coming today. And special thanks to Representative LoBiondo and Deputy Secretary Porcari for their continued support of NextGen.
As you know, we have had an extremely busy year. We’re working on many important projects, but at the same time, we’re dealing with the sequester and all that it entails.
We have had to make sizeable budget cuts that affect our operations and our future.
As the Deputy Secretary said, the sequester is not over. But, Congress gave us the financial flexibility to avoid the furloughs for the remainder of this fiscal year – through September 30. We were able to transfer $253 million from the airport grant program – which was exempt from the sequester.
With this flexibility, we are also able to keep open the 149 low activity contract towers through September. And we’re putting $10 million towards NextGen, to reduce cuts and delays in core programs; and $11 million to maintain equipment and infrastructure that is so necessary for the system.
As part of this flexibility, we are able to restart the Metroplex work that had been put on hold. As you know these projects are highly collaborative and must include our operational air traffic control personnel. Furloughs under the sequester required us to recall air traffic controllers and managers back to their duty stations.
Last week, we started the coordination efforts to get these air traffic controllers back on the Metroplex work. They are experts in their airspace, and we will restart the collaborative process with airlines and the many other stakeholders who are all working to improve congested airspace over busy cities. We are able to do this in seven Metroplex cities where the work will continue, including: Washington, D.C., Northern Texas, Charlotte, Northern and Southern California, Houston and Atlanta.
Sequester not over
Keep in mind however, that the sequester is still in place and that the FAA must still cut a total of $637 million from our budget by Sept. 30.
We’ve also cut our spare parts inventory, which may increase restoration time during outages and reduce system efficiency. And as an interim measure, we’re not training new air traffic controllers or technicians to maintain and operate new technologies, which has led to a shut down of a large part of the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City.
NextGen under sequester
Because the sequester is designed to last ten years, we have conducted an initial assessment of how a long term sequester would impact our current NextGen Implementation Plan. Today, we have seven programs in the implementation phase. These programs are current contract commitments that will deliver new capabilities for all phases of flight by 2018.
The budget profile even under sequester would provide the capital funding required to meet most of those commitments. But, to make this happen we must have the operations funds to maintain our active workforce participation in key activities like procedures design, onsite testing, and training. And, if we are not able to keep the workforce engagement, we simply will not be able to meet all of our current commitments and the associated timelines.
Nonetheless, there are bright spots. And we are delighted that the President has appointed Mike Whitaker to be the Deputy Administrator of the FAA. Mike has more than 20 years of experience in the airline industry and he will be the Chief NextGen Officer. He’ll be in charge of everything NextGen and will be doing these reports from now on with all of you. He just came on board yesterday, and I’m looking forward to a very productive relationship. Please join me in welcoming Mike. He’ll be leading our NextGen efforts, focused on delivering benefits now, and will be taking over as the NAC's Designated Federal Official going forward. He may need a few more days to get fully immersed in all our acronyms, but I’m confident that in working with all of you, he will make a difference. Please join me in welcoming Mike.
I would also like to congratulate Jim Crites, Executive Vice President for Operations at Dallas Fort Worth Airport. Jim has received this year’s White House Champions of Change award in the category of Transportation Technology Solutions.
Jim has demonstrated a powerful personal and professional commitment to the advancement of NextGen. He has been an effective, vocal advocate, and he has actively participated in the testing and demonstration of key NextGen technologies and programs. As a champion of collaboration, he has brought representatives of various communities to the table when necessary to collaborate on NextGen planning and implementation, and to overcome challenges.
Please join me in congratulating Jim Crites.
Now, I would like to talk about some of the work the FAA has been doing as a result of our collaboration here at the NextGen Advisory Committee.
As you know, Congress has asked us to measure NextGen performance in the context of key city pairs. This was part of reauthorization.
Last summer we asked for your help in identifying these city pairs and we received your suggestions in February. I am pleased to say that the FAA accepts those recommendations for 25 city pairs. We are going to begin to report the benefits we realize between these cities as part of our metrics web page and the NextGen Performance Snapshots.
Also, we plan to release the NextGen Implementation Plan within the month. We wanted to make sure that everything in the plan lines up with the President’s 2014 budget. It will be available online this year. We’re trying to reduce printing costs.
Despite the difficulties of the sequester, we are making progress on important work that the NAC has helped to guide and that will make our airspace safer and more efficient.
We are updating our air traffic control handbook, which sets the standards that controllers use to ensure safety and properly separate aircraft. It was published long before the use of performance based navigation, and we’ve identified 15 updates that would allow air traffic controllers to take full advantage of the benefits of NextGen. While these changes are complicated, we are determined to publish many this year.
For example, we’re going to expand the use of equivalent lateral spacing operations, or ELSO. You’ll hear more about this later today. The precision of NextGen navigation means we can safely allow jets to take off on headings that are slightly closer together. This small change has been used in Atlanta and we’re seeing an increase of 8 to 12 planes departing per hour. Last year we estimate that this saved customers 700,000 minutes of waiting, or 1.3 years of waiting in line to take-off in Atlanta. It’s better for the environment too. All those jets spend less time on the ground with their engines running. So we’re burning less fuel and decreasing pollution. ELSO saved the airlines $20 million last year in Atlanta alone. We want other major airports to be able to use ELSO, so we are changing the handbook.
Closely spaced parallel operations
We’re also working very diligently to increase the number of aircraft that can land at an airport each hour, while maintaining safety. That is why we have put so much effort into closely spaced parallel operations and will change the controller handbook to make these operations more common.
We are working on improvements to staggered approaches for runways that are very close together – closer than 2,500 feet. About 17 of our busiest 35 airports have runways this close together.
You can’t do simultaneous operations on these runways, but we can still safely lower the separation standard for aircraft that are coming into these close runways.
This is because our entire airspace system has undergone extensive advances over the years. We have the ability to collect and analyze better radar data. Our aircraft have better avionics, and we have more effective training for both pilots and controllers. Technology across the board has improved to such an extent that we are extremely confident that we can operate aircraft at a closer proximity to one another and still be just as safe.
These reduced separation standards of three miles down to one-and-a-half nautical miles for staggered approaches have already been approved for specific runways at eight airports right now. They are: Boston, Newark, St. Louis, Cleveland, Seattle, Memphis, Philadelphia and San Francisco. Before airports can use these new separation standards, the FAA must first train the controllers.
These changes will help the entire air space system by safely increasing capacity at major hubs when the weather prohibits visual approaches. It will decrease the ripple of delays that spreads across the system when one hub is experiencing weather conditions.
We have a lot of good work going on at the FAA and a very dedicated workforce. I’ve really enjoyed working with everyone on the NAC over the past few years. Thank you very much for all of the work you are doing and your dedication to NextGen and to improving flight today and for future generations.
Now I’d like to introduce Pam Whitley, who is Acting Assistant Administrator for NextGen. She’ll introduce the next agenda item which is on the NextGen performance snapshots website. We established this website a year ago to report NextGen specific metrics and to publish NextGen success stories.