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Speech – "Collaboration Is Woven Into Our Fabric"

"Collaboration Is Woven Into Our Fabric"
Michael Huerta, Crystal City, VA
June 13, 2017

RTCA Symposium


Remarks As Prepared For Delivery

Thank you, Margaret. I’m glad to be here. First off, I want to congratulate everyone who will be receiving awards this afternoon.

As an aviation community, we’re very fortunate to have people like you who volunteer their time.

Your efforts and your expertise contribute significantly to the FAA’s NextGen Advisory Committee, our Drone Advisory Committee, and other collaborative efforts that help ensure the safety and the success of aviation.

I know you had panel sessions on the NAC and the DAC this morning. It’s hard to fathom that just five or six years ago these two committees – which are so instrumental to our success now – didn’t even exist.

In the past, we tended to think of RTCA as a very technical organization.

We would turn to you for guidance on technical standards.

And that’s appropriate to the extent that aviation has always moved forward because of innovation. But aviation has also moved forward because of collaboration.  

What we’ve come to realize in recent years, and what we appreciate even more now, is that we have to focus on the business of aviation.

We have to determine the needs of the aviation community and forge a consensus on how to prioritize efforts that will produce the most benefits.

With that in mind, we’ve very much expanded the process of collaboration with industry. It’s now woven into the fabric of what we do. And I want to thank RTCA for helping us take that step.

One of the best illustrations of this approach is the NextGen Advisory Committee. Simply put, it has been a catalyst for NextGen.

With the help of aviation’s diverse community, we’ve been able to determine NextGen priority areas where we can deliver the greatest amount of benefit in the near term.

Through this forum, our stakeholders have a better understanding of our planning and decision-making, which bolsters trust and cooperation among everyone.

And as issues come up, we leverage this trust as well as the diverse set of expertise of the members of the NAC. 

Jim Crites, a NAC member, is being honored today with RTCA’s Achievement Award.  He recently retired as the executive vice president in charge of operations at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.

Last year, Jim, along with Brian Townsend, co-chaired a NAC task group to develop recommendations for better engagement with local communities on Performance Based Navigation routes.

As you know, these routes save time and money. And while they can reduce the overall amount of noise in a given community, the precise nature of some of these procedures concentrates that noise over a smaller geographical area. And that’s generated a significant amount of debate.

Jim’s task force included people from industry, airports, labor, government and other groups. They issued a report in June of last year, which offered a number of important contributions.

For instance, it highlighted the need to address community concerns beyond simply satisfying legal requirements. 

It highlighted the need to ensure “no surprises” for the community.

And it underscored the importance of airports and other stakeholders to the success of PBN implementation.  There were other recommendations as well.

Since that report, the FAA has greatly stepped up its community engagement activities.  We hired a community involvement manager, and we’re now in a better position to engage the public and address their concerns.

For instance, we try to place flight routes over less populated areas, where possible.

Collaboration isn’t a new concept for Jim.

For many years, he has been an outstanding partner for the FAA. He’s helped us do some of the initial testing on Runway Status Lights at DFW more than a decade ago. And more recently, he helped clear the way for testing drone detection technologies. 

A big part of Jim’s impressive track record is that he brings together people with different interests to help forge consensus and move aviation forward.

The key point here is that when we have the kind of collaborative culture taking place through the NAC and other groups, people like Jim Crites and so many of you can step up and play important roles.

PBN is just one of our near-term NextGen priority areas that we identified in the NAC. Another one is Data Communications. 

Last year, we completed the deployment of Data Communications departure clearance service at 55 airports.

The NAC asked us to accelerate our original schedule and we were able to do so. We completed the task two and a half years ahead of schedule—which resulted in deployment related savings. This made it possible for us to install DataComm at an additional seven airports.

So far, more than 28,000 air traffic operations per week are taking advantage of this capability. One of the benefits we’re seeing is less taxi time by aircraft than would otherwise result because of bad weather.

While that 28,000 represents a fraction of total operations, it does show a growth rate of 6,000% in 17 months. But I recognize that we need to focus on working with the airlines to increase DataComm utilization. The industry asked us to accelerate the timetable for deployment. Now everyone – the users and the FAA – need to do their part so that we can increase the use of this timesaving technology. 

And over the next 30 years, we expect that DataComm will save operators more than $10 billion along with savings to the FAA of about $1 billion.        

Working with the NAC, we’re now putting a focus on the Northeast corridor.

We continue to work toward making NextGen interoperable globally, so we can deliver benefits beyond our borders. Toward that effort, international standards work remains critical. 

Through NextGen, we’ve already delivered more than $2.7 billion in benefits to the aviation community. And we expect that number to climb to $160 billion by 2030.

To secure these benefits, we must sustain the momentum that we’ve attained through the NAC and other collaborative processes.

And when we consider how instrumental this process has been for NextGen, we knew we had to take the same approach to integrate unmanned aircraft.

The drone industry is moving at an incredible speed.

And it seeks greater access to the airspace. But there was a lot of talking past each other. We needed to get the drone industry to talk to the aviation industry.

So RTCA helped us set up the FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee.

Through the DAC, we’re determining how the industry can achieve greater access into the airspace system.

With the assistance of the local government and community members on the DAC, we’re talking about the roles that local and state governments should play.

We’re also teaming up with NASA to develop a concept for a UAS traffic management system.

And we’re working with industry and other U.S. government agencies on the UAS Detection Initiative. We’re testing technologies that would detect unauthorized drone operations near airports and other critical infrastructure, and in unauthorized airspace.

The FAA’s biggest challenge remains stable funding.

Over the past several years – government shutdowns, furloughs, sequestration – and the lack of a long-term reauthorization makes it more difficult to plan and execute our NextGen efforts.

While we’ve made progress despite these constraints, I support looking at new ways to help us provide stable and sufficient funding to more rapidly modernize our system while maintaining the highest level of safety. 

Last month, President Trump released the details on his first budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2018, which calls for $16.2 billion for the FAA.

This budget request will allow us to continue delivering on our mission, while keeping our operational costs below Fiscal Year 2016 levels.

And the Administration has begun looking at a long-term plan for restructuring how we provide air traffic control services.

This plan would shift air traffic control to an independent, non-governmental organization.

This is the start of a much needed conversation that needs to involve all users of the airspace system and deliver benefits to the system as a whole.

As we have these important discussions, let me stress that our people at the FAA have accomplished so much under extraordinary circumstances. There is no doubt that their skill and dedication to our mission is what enables us to ensure that we have the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world.

As we have these important discussions, we have to continue to partner effectively as a community.

We must continue to forge consensus as we proceed with NextGen, integrate drones and other new users, and address other important questions of the day.

We have achieved valuable momentum with this approach, and we’re making a lot of progress.

I look forward to our continued journey together.

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