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Speech – "A Shared Language"

"A Shared Language"
Daniel K. Elwell, Washington, DC
June 19, 2018

FAA-EASA International Aviation Safety Conference

Thank you, Eric. Good afternoon, everyone.

It’s a real honor for the United States to be hosting this year’s FAA-EASA International Aviation Safety Conference. And I thank you all for joining us.

It’s great to see so many of our international counterparts this week – not only from Europe, but from around the world.

And having you all here – I think – speaks to the unique nature of the aviation industry.

Even at times when the geopolitical climate is tense… when nations are more focused on differences than similarities… the global aviation community comes together.

And it’s because, no matter where we hail from, we all share the same language.

The language of safety.

Aviation is the safest form of transportation in the world.

We say and hear those words all the time. But really think about it for a second.

Metal tubes, filled with some of the world’s most complex machinery, are hurtling through the air – and navigating in three-dimensional space – 35,000 feet above our heads right now.

Just figuring out how to do that was hard enough. Let alone to do it safely.

So how’d we get here?

It comes down to a pretty simple idea. One that the entire aviation industry, from top to bottom, has embraced.

We don’t compete on safety.

Conferences like this give us the opportunity to reaffirm that commitment. And it’s especially important to do so now.

The world and our industry are changing on an almost daily basis. That creates a lot of questions.

How do we safely integrate new users into our already busy airspace?

How do we harness technology to modernize the way we manage air traffic?

How do we maintain the safety of our system without stifling innovation?

These questions aren’t new. And they’re not unique to the United States. We’re all grappling with them.

And if we’re going to find the right answers – the best answers – we need to continue building on the partnerships that have fueled so many of our successes to date.

That starts with how we integrate new users into our airspace.

This is an area where we can learn so much from each other. Unmanned aircraft and commercial space operations have truly captured the world’s imagination.

And as these industries grow, so do their airspace needs.

To help meet this increasing demand, the United States is embracing a flexible regulatory framework that can nimbly respond to innovation.

We were the first country to integrate commercial drone operations under specific conditions into complex airspace.

Now, we’re looking to go further.

I joined Secretary Chao last month to announce ten pilot program sites across the country where state, local, and tribal governments will be working with private industry to demonstrate and study expanded drone operations.

The information we gain from these trials will help us build out the regulatory framework for unmanned aircraft nationwide – including operations over people and beyond visual line of sight.

We’re also changing our approach to commercial space launches.

It’s not enough to just accommodate this growing industry. We need to fully integrate it into our airspace.

We’re looking at how new technologies like the Space Data Integrator can make launches less disruptive to nearby airspace users.

And we’re revamping our licensing processes to make it easier for commercial space operators to receive the approvals they need more quickly.

Of course, integrating new users into a system that already includes everything from jumbo jets to helicopters goes hand-in-hand with investing in modern air traffic systems that can manage it all.

This has been a priority on both sides of the Atlantic for many years now.

Here in the United States, we’re working closely with industry to prioritize our modernization efforts so that we can deliver concrete benefits to airlines, passengers, and businesses as quickly as possible.

In FAA facilities around the country, state-of-the-art computers are supporting new automation systems that make managing air traffic more efficient.

We’ve deployed Data Communications technology nationwide to help pilots and controllers send messages to each other faster and more accurately.

We’re using Performance Based Navigation to create more direct flight routes that save time and cut down on emissions.

And we’re about 18 months away from a deadline that will require all aircraft flying within controlled airspace to be equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast – better known as ADS-B.

ADS-B uses GPS satellites to give air traffic controllers a more accurate picture of where an aircraft is at any given moment.

About 25 percent of the U.S. airline fleet has already equipped with ADS-B.

And we’re working closely with our international partners to make sure any aircraft that will be flying in U.S. airspace has equipment installed that complies with the mandate by January 1, 2020.

This is part of our larger harmonization efforts with the global community.

The United States signed a revised Memorandum of Cooperation with the European Union late last year. It expanded our collaboration on air traffic modernization to include deployment activities. This will support continued seamless transatlantic operations.

At the same time, we signed an amendment to the US-EU Safety Agreement that makes it easier to validate and import each other’s aircraft and aviation parts.

Thanks to the relationship we’ve built over the years, we have a high-degree of confidence in our respective certification systems.

This agreement acknowledges that. It opens up a way for the US and EU to collaborate on flight simulation training devices, as well as on pilot licensing and training.

And we continue to build on this work today.

The FAA and the European Commission amended their Safety Agreement this morning, and took the first step toward lowering validation fees for manufacturers.

This amendment will also help get products to market faster by reducing the involvement of validating authorities on both sides of the Atlantic.

These agreements are just the most recent examples of the value of the relationship between the United States and our European partners.

We’ve been able to make tremendous safety gains in transatlantic operations by working together. And it’s essential we protect them as we look to the future.

That's the message I'll be taking to the United Kingdom when I visit the Farnborough Airshow next month.

Brexit and its March 2019 deadline is obviously on all of our minds.

And as the clock runs down, removing uncertainty about the UK and its aviation agreements with the rest of the world only becomes more important.

Brexit is going to affect passengers, businesses, and the entire global supply chain. But early planning can help mitigate those impacts.

So it's in everyone’s best interest to reach a decision on the aviation components of Brexit as soon as possible.

Fortunately, we’ve been certificating aircraft for decades. We know what agreements we need to have in place to ensure safe and efficient operations.

What we need now is focus and clarity.

We need to do everything possible to ensure a seamless transition and minimize disruptions.

Because the safety, efficiency, and affordability of our systems depend on it.

I said it earlier – aviation is the safest form of transportation in the world. But it didn’t start out that way. Far from it.

The earliest years of flight were filled with trial and error… tragedy and sacrifice.

But we did the work. We worked together. And we achieved more than this industry’s founding fathers could have ever dreamed.

But that doesn’t mean our work is done.

We can’t get complacent.

We went more than nine years and two months without a commercial passenger fatality here in the United States.

But the engine failure on Southwest Flight 1380 reminded us that even a single incident in our system is one too many.

The United States is a worldwide leader in aviation. We’re proud of that reputation. And the Trump Administration intends to keep it.

But we know we don't have a monopoly on good ideas.

We need our partners in the international aviation community to help us reach the next level of safety.

Aviation doesn’t have borders, or boundaries.

We’re a global community. And there’s no limit to what we can achieve when we work together.

Thank you again for joining us this week. I’m looking forward to a productive conference.



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