"The Only Constant is Change"
Stephen M. Dickson, Zoom
August 11, 2020
Southern Region Airports Virtual Seminar
Thank you, Steve. Hello everyone. I hope everyone’s keeping safe and doing well.
I wish we were meeting in my hometown of Atlanta, as initially planned. I enjoy getting back there when I can.
But of course, a lot of things are different this year. Only one of which is our reliance on virtual meetings, like this one.
As the old saying goes, “The only constant in life is change.” And as an aviation community, we’ve certainly seen our share of change in the last six months.
Before COVID-19, U.S. airlines were moving about 1 billion passengers a year, and we, as an industry, had achieved a safety record that was—and remains—the envy of the world.
We’re seeing about an 80% decrease in airline passenger traffic compared to early March.
General Aviation, including business jet operations, saw a significant drop in traffic during the spring, but it’s recovering quite a bit.
It might take a while. But overall traffic will bounce back.
As a broader aviation community, our success will depend on how well we adapt to the changes related to COVID-19, and how well we adapt to drones, commercial space transportation, and other kinds of rapid innovation we’re seeing in aviation.
In addition, our success depends on how well we collaborate with each other, and with other stakeholders, to address pressing issues like the safety and efficiency of surface operations and aircraft noise.
These are the topics I want to discuss today.
Let me start by saying that the FAA supports airports of all sizes. Whether they are big or small, urban or rural, airports are an invaluable part of our nation’s transportation infrastructure.
Through the CARES Act, we have awarded more than $2 billion in economic relief to 604 airports across the FAA’s Southern Region. These funds are helping airports with operational and maintenance costs like payroll, utilities, service contracts, and debt service.
As we continue to deal with this unprecedented public health challenge, it is critical that all airports continue making safety their top priority.
Continue conducting safety inspections.
Continue working with the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization on runway safety action teams.
And continue working with the FAA’s Southern Region office on safety matters. The entire office is available to you.
We are working remotely just as effectively as when we’re in the physical FAA office space. So don’t hesitate to reach out to us.
The more we can communicate, the better we can ensure safety in all aspects of the airport environment.
On that note, the FAA is developing a Safety Management Systems rule that would apply to airports. Many of you have voluntarily implemented SMS in your organizations, and we commend you for your commitment to safety.
Through SMS, airports will be in a better position to identify threats, mitigate risks, and share best practices with the broader aviation community.
One of the most visible areas of airport safety is on the runway.
Five years ago, the FAA’s Airports Office started the Runway Incursion Mitigation, or RIM, program, to address runway/taxiway intersections with high incidences of runway incursions due to nonstandard airport layouts.
Currently, we have identified projects for 124 intersections at 75 airports nationwide. These projects include changes to the airport layout, lights, signs, markings, and operational procedures. These changes will reduce the likelihood of pilot confusion and, ultimately, runway incursions.
To date, the RIM program has mitigated safety risk at 54 intersections – one-third of which are at airports in the FAA’s Southern Region – reducing runway incursions at these locations by more than 77%.
Also, we’re working with GA airport sponsors on a new initiative to improve runway safety areas at GA airports. The solutions could range from constructing new runway safety areas to installing an Engineered Material Arresting System.
And the FAA has a new YouTube video series called “From the Flight Deck.” This series uses cockpit and wing-mounted cameras to increase pilot awareness of common issues at particular airports around the country.
I’ll show you a clip of the main series trailer. Could you please play the video?
COVID-19 has delayed our filming schedule, but we have projects planned at airports like DeKalb-Peachtree, Daytona Beach, Fort Lauderdale International, and Sarasota-Bradenton. And we’ll post these videos as soon as they are complete.
While safety is our top priority, the FAA has also pursued several efforts to improve the efficiency of surface operations.
We have deployed Data Communications Tower Services at 62 airports throughout the country. We did it well ahead of schedule and significantly under budget.
Through June of this year, Data Comm has saved more than 1.5 million minutes of flight delay and more than 2.2 million minutes of communications time between controllers and pilots.
Just two of the thousands of examples of delay reduction include saving an airline flight 22 minutes compared to a voice-only flight on a historically bad weather day at Orlando International.
Data Comm also saved a flight 10 minutes compared to a voice-only flight at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson on a day when there were ground stops in Florida.
This means that passengers and cargo get to their destinations more quickly and efficiently.
Another tool that will improve surface efficiency is the Terminal Flight Data Manager. TFDM will modernize tower operations by replacing manual paper flight strips with electronic flight strip displays.
TFDM will share data among controllers, aircraft operators, and airports so they can better stage arrivals and departures and more efficiently manage traffic flow on the surface and within terminal airspace.
We’re deploying TFDM at 89 airports, including all Core 30 airports between 2021 and 2029.
While TFDM relies on getting departure readiness data from the airlines, much of the GA community, including business aviation, does not have a method to provide this kind of data.
We’re prototyping a mobile device application that can help overcome this challenge. It’s called Pacer.
When preparing for a flight, pilots can use Pacer to submit an intended departure time and view the busy departure times at the airport.
With this information, a business jet operator might decide to leave an hour earlier, or an hour later to avoid busy times. It’s just like going on the web and checking out the busy times for a restaurant.
A Pacer web portal lets airport and traffic flow managers see this demand information and conduct better planning through a common view of expected airport operations.
Our long-term goal is to pull those departure readiness times from the GA community into TFDM, so we’ll have an even better picture of surface operations. The vision is that these capabilities within Pacer will be integrated into existing aviation apps used by pilots and crews.
We’re currently testing the prototype at several airports in the Dallas-Ft. Worth and Las Vegas area, and we plan to expand testing to Charlotte Douglas International Airport and Augusta Regional Airport for the Masters Tournament.
You can tell your GA operator communities to go to pacer.aero to learn how to get the app on their mobile device.
Through capabilities like Data Comm, TFDM, and Pacer, the FAA continues to develop innovation to make airport operations more efficient.
Toward that end, we are conducting research on how drones can be used to perform airport-centric operations, such as obstruction analysis, wildlife hazard management, airfield pavement inspections, perimeter security inspections, and aircraft rescue and firefighting operations.
But we also want to keep unauthorized drone users from interfering with airport operations.
We’re working to establish a Remote ID requirement that can identify drones near airports. We received 53,000 comments on the proposed rule, and we’re in the process of finalizing the rule now, which we expect to publish by the end of the year.
I encourage you to register for Episode #2 of the FAA’s UAS Symposium on August 18-19th, where you can learn more about the efforts we’re making toward drone integration. Visit faa.gov for more details.
In addition, we will be soliciting airport operators and technology vendors to see who would like to participate in our UAS Detection and Mitigation Airport testing and evaluation program. The solicitations will be out for 45 days and will be posted on beta.SAM.gov.
The FAA is also working to integrate commercial space transportation into the airspace system.
There have been 26 space operations this fiscal year. And while COVID-19 has delayed some expected launches, we do expect nine more by the end of September. That would put us higher than last fiscal year’s total of 32 space operations.
Several airports have expressed interest in becoming spaceports. This past May, we approved a spaceport license for Space Coast Regional Airport in Central Florida. And Huntsville International Airport in Alabama is planning to apply for a license.
We want to integrate commercial space operations in a way that minimizes disruption to existing air traffic.
We’re developing a whole suite of technologies and procedures to reduce the size and duration of closed airspace for a space operation and release that airspace more efficiently so it’s available to other airspace users. We’re also developing capabilities to more efficiently reroute air traffic around space launch areas.
Finally, I’d like to touch on the issue of aircraft noise. As you know, it’s a concern for many local communities, and the concern has to be addressed by every group that has a role in noise.
Before traffic starts to build back up, we want to use this time – as an aviation community – to really think strategically about how we can better engage the public on this issue.
As part of this effort, we want to provide our citizens with a more robust understanding about what factors contribute to aircraft noise in their communities.
Many airports hold Roundtables with their stakeholders and the public to address these concerns. And the FAA is committed to participating at these meetings and engaging in meaningful dialogue with all parties.
When it comes to designing air traffic procedures, we prioritize the safety and efficiency of the system. And we take into consideration the needs of the airlines and the airports, as well as the concerns of the general public.
We unveiled a Noise Portal in the Southern Region for the public to communicate their noise-related concerns.
We have also established partnerships with Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson and Greenville-Spartanburg International in South Carolina to coordinate on noise-related information and data that can be provided to the public.
And in June, the FAA held a series of virtual workshops, as part of our community outreach to discuss the proposed Metroplex procedures for Central and South Florida.
These virtual meetings were a big success, providing more than 100,000 people the opportunity to engage with the FAA. It was the first time we did something like this on that scale.
Our Communications office did a great job of broadcasting these meetings through our social media platforms.
We had a broad range of participation from airport officials, airline pilots, air carriers, and environmental specialists that were able to help answer questions from members of the public.
We have virtual meetings upcoming in Boston and Chicago, and we would like to have significant stakeholder participation just as we did in Florida.
In closing, I want to reiterate that the FAA believes strongly in supporting airports of all types, locations, and sizes throughout the country.
We continue to focus on ways to mitigate safety risk at the airport.
We continue to invest in innovative technologies and research to make airport operations more efficient.
We continue to integrate drones and commercial space vehicles into the airspace system, while being mindful of how they could potentially affect airports.
And we remain steadfast in our desire to collaborate with you in these areas. So please continue to connect with the Southern Region office.
I know that not all of the wisdom comes from FAA Headquarters. It’s important that we keep listening to you and seeing things from your perspective.
Thanks everyone and I hope you have a great conference.