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Speech – "Working Together to Foster Safety"

"Working Together to Foster Safety"
Michael Huerta, Jaffa, Israel
December 16, 2015

Israeli Aerospace Dinner

I am honored to be here with you tonight, and I appreciate the hospitality and spirit of partnership you have extended to me during my visit to your beautiful country.  I am especially in awe of this wonderful—and appropriate—venue for tonight’s gathering.

I want to thank Civil Aviation Authority of Israel (CAAI) Director General Joel Feldschuh and his team for hosting us here tonight and for being such great partners, which I plan to speak more about. The Peres Center for Peace is truly inspiring.  And I could look out at this view of the Mediterranean Sea for hours.

For those of us in this room, aviation is not just a profession; it is a passion.  We are fortunate to live in a time when we can do what mankind has imagined since the days when this part of the world was young.  We don’t have to wonder; we know what it is like to mount up on wings as eagles.

For us, the world is a much wider place.  Yet, at the same time, it has never been smaller.

We think nothing of boarding a modern airliner and safely disembarking a few hours later, an ocean or more away. Aviation has become the international language of commerce, and runways have enabled inland cities to become vibrant ports.  It has helped foster an intellectual and economic prosperity that’s unparalleled in human history.

As stewards of this industry, we share an enormous responsibility to protect this mode of travel and to nurture its future.  Every day, we ask ourselves, how can we make flying safer?  How can we be more efficient?  What else lies over the horizon?

Since the beginning of manned flight, aviation has been the catalyst for international relationships.  I can’t think of anywhere this has been truer than the deep, unbreakable bonds that have grown between Israel and the United States.

In January of this year, Nancy Spielberg and Roberta Grossman released a documentary, “Above and Beyond.”  It tells the story of a group of American fighter pilots who volunteered to fly in combat for the State of Israel during the War of Independence in 1948.  It’s a historical account that isn’t so well known in my country, even though many of these men were heroes here in Israel.

They were acting on their own at the time, but these intrepid Jewish aviators heralded the beginning of what today is one of the United States’ strongest common bonds with Israel.

We are tied together culturally.  We are tied together economically.  We are tied together by aviation.

From the earliest days of flight, aviation has presented us with an ever-changing slate of opportunities and challenges.

For example, we are able to fly longer distances in greater safety and comfort than ever before, making almost any two points on the planet reachable in a single flight.

At the same time, the worldwide security environment and ongoing regional conflicts have added new concerns that extend far beyond questions about aerodynamics and fuel calculations.

As you all know, we experienced this first-hand on July 22, 2014, when a rocket from Gaza landed approximately a mile from Ben-Gurion Airport, prompting FAA to issue a Notice to Airmen that prohibited U.S. carriers from using BGA for a period of time.  We viewed the suspension of flights as a temporary but necessary pause while we assured ourselves of the safety postures of both the United States and the Government of Israel. 

As a result of this incident, the FAA and the Civil Aviation Authority of Israel (CAAI) began an in-depth exchange that allowed the FAA and CAAI to establish new mechanisms to improve coordination.  These are greatly assisting our communication and interaction on a number of fronts, and are helping us remain prepared for a range of contingencies.

Up to this point, we have focused mainly on coordinating internal processes between the FAA and the CAAI.  I hope in the future we can expand this cooperation to entail working together with U.S. and Israeli companies to find new, innovative technologies for the aviation sector.

The FAA’s primary concern is the safety of civil aviation anywhere American passengers travel around the world.  We constantly monitor world events and work with our international partners to take the appropriate actions with the best interests of travelers foremost in our minds.  This is another common bond we share with you.

When you think about it, as a sovereign nation, Israel has been around for only about 60 percent of the history of manned flight.  Yet, during that time, this country has emerged on many fronts as a leader on the world aviation stage.

Just in October, your flag carrier, El Al Israel Airlines, announced the largest fleet-renewal program in the airline’s history.

El Al placed orders for nine new Boeing 737s and 787 Dreamliners.  The airline also said it planned to lease an additional six Dreamliners and was taking options for the purchase of another 13.  All told, the deal is valued at roughly $3.4 billion.

Today, almost five years to the day since the U.S.–Israel Open Skies Agreement went into force, El Al is unquestionably a top-notch competitor in a region that continues to set new standards for passenger comfort and aircraft amenities.

International carriers such as United Airlines have benefited from the growing demand from the tech industry.  United is scheduled to begin direct service from Tel Aviv to San Francisco this coming March and Delta will also expand its direct service to New York in 2016.

The recent discovery of vast fields of natural gas under the Mediterranean promises even more future demand for air travel in this region.

In the manufacturing arena, Israel has become an important supplier to many of the world’s leading aerospace companies. Components made in your factories are incorporated into the newest generation of modern jetliners and fighter jets.  Indeed, one of the premier business jets in its class, the Gulfstream G280, was certified by the FAA in 2012 and is built by Israel Aerospace Industries, not far from where we are tonight.

The Civil Aviation Authority is a valuable partner to the FAA, and we were pleased to work with the Government of Israel during its efforts in 2011 to update its aviation law. Today, Israel enjoys a Category 1 safety rating – the highest possible under the FAA’s rating system.  We continue to work with the CAA, both directly and through international safety committees, to address the pressing issues that face this industry.

This afternoon, I visited Israel Aerospace Industries, where we engaged in constructive conversations about the strides the company has also made in the growing field of unmanned aircraft.

As you have probably seen, the subject of small, unmanned aircraft has consumed a great deal of the FAA’s time in recent months. We are working to implement regulations that will enable us to safely integrate this promising segment of aviation into the world’s busiest and most complicated airspace system.

Meanwhile, the industry itself is growing at a pace unlike anything we’ve seen since the dawn of the Jet Age.

We learn every day about new and creative uses for these aircraft, whether it’s to deliver packages or enable companies to accomplish tasks such as remotely monitoring miles of railroad or pipeline. 

At the same time, these small aircraft—we call them Unmanned Aircraft Systems, you call them Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems, but the rest of the world knows them as drones – are becoming the latest craze among tech-savvy consumers.

Retailers estimate that as many as 400,000 small unmanned aircraft will be sold during the holiday season in the U.S.  Most will be piloted by operators who have little or no experience in aviation.

We have already had several hundred instances in the U.S. in which pilots have reported these small aircraft have come into close proximity to manned flights.  Many of them have been in airspace near airports, while a number have been at altitudes ranging from 1,500 feet to as high as 10,000 feet.

As you might imagine, we are working to eliminate the likelihood of an unfortunate incident or accident.  We are using every method at our disposal to engage these new aviators – and they are aviators.  As we do so, we value the advice and experience of our international partners here in Israel and elsewhere.  We recognize that we are all embarking together into yet another new age in the constantly changing world of aviation.

As regulators, airline operators and business leaders and aviators, we are constantly called upon to make flying even safer.  We have achieved an amazing track record together.

One of the most important factors in the worldwide aviation safety record is the free exchange of information. We realized in the late 1980s and early 1990s that the industry would need to focus on intense data analysis to detect risk and prevent accidents or incidents from occurring.

The industry adopted a wide array of programs that encouraged aviation professionals–be they pilots, flight attendants, mechanics or air traffic controllers–to voluntarily report safety events without jeopardizing their careers.

Airlines and government safety authorities around the world used that information to jointly develop new safety protocols. We improved not only training, but the technologies we rely on to keep us safe as we jet from place to place at almost the speed of sound.

As a result, we have all but eliminated the most common causes of commercial accidents – controlled flight into terrain, weather, wind shear and failure to complete checklists.  All told, our Commercial Aviation Safety Team reduced the risk of fatalities in U.S. commercial aviation by 83 percent over 10 years.

We continue to work through the world’s international safety organizations to make flying safer, no matter where the wheels touch down.  The path to success depends upon the free exchange of safety information and the willingness to always look for the next improvement.  We are pleased to join you on this journey.

Many people outside our industry probably aren’t aware of it, but some of the most valuable lessons about flying were learned in this part of the world.  Antoine de St. Exupery, known to many as the author of the children’s book, “The Little Prince,” was actually a pioneering aviator who spent much of his time flying the airmail throughout the Middle East.

He wrote an award-winning book, “Wind, Sand and Stars” in 1939, inspired by a plane crash that almost claimed the lives of St. Exupery and his navigator.

St. Exupery offered several observations about flying under trying conditions.  Back then, he was in open-cockpit biplanes.  Most often, those flights occurred at night.  Navigation was best accomplished by following the stars. As anyone who has spent any time in the desert knows, a sand dune in a sea of sand dunes makes a poor reference point.

He writes about the loneliness of the desert and the importance of friendship and of gaining new perspectives.  One of the more inspirational passages of the book includes this line:  “The airplane has unveiled for us the true face of the earth.”

I think that’s something on which we can all agree. These machines in which we fly from place to place to make money, to visit relatives or to see the wonders of the world, truly do force us to look beyond ourselves and our immediate surroundings.

As we have seen in recent weeks, no place in the world is immune from acts of terrorism. Whether it’s Paris, Baghdad, Nigeria, Colorado Springs, San Bernardino, Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, hardly a day goes by without some sort of senseless violence.

It is up to the people in this room – and across the international aviation industry –to take steps to guarantee our air transportation system is robust and reliable, no matter what lies over the horizon.

As I close, it occurs to me that the mission statement of the Peres Center for Peace—to “promote lasting peace and advancement in the Middle East by fostering tolerance, economic and technological development, innovation, cooperation and well-being”—is one that could apply across all borders and cultures.

I mentioned earlier that the U.S. and Israel are tied together by aviation.  The world is tied together by aviation. Because of this, we are all neighbors, separated only by time and distance.



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