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Speech – "Oklahoma 2020 State of the Aerospace Industry"

"Oklahoma 2020 State of the Aerospace Industry"
Stephen M. Dickson, Virtual Event
December 10, 2020

Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce


Thank you Judy, for that kind introduction and thank you to the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce for your efforts to advance the safety and efficiency of the aerospace industry, which has a vital role in Oklahomas economy. The FAA recognizes and appreciates the Chambers commitment to our industry, and to aviation safety.

You cant talk about the Oklahoma economy without talking about the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center, or MMAC. With a workforce of more than 6,300 employees, its Oklahomas fourth largest employer. In addition, 1,000 to 2,000 students from across the United States are advancing their skills at the Center to successfully enter and participate in the nations workforce of the future.  The MMAC has been contributing to aviation excellence for 74 years and will be celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2021.

I proudly point out the number of young people at our center because, like the Chamber, the FAA knows that for our nation to keep our edge in the global aerospace industry, we must continually look for ways to advance Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education. Its not a coincidence that advancing STEM-related aerospace fields is at the heart of much of the Centers mission.  The Center is doing their part to ensure they are attractive to the workforce of the future, and I am pleased they were recognized last week as a Top Place to Work across the state of Oklahoma.

Latest figures show the center has $2 billion in assets and adds $1.65 billion each year to the economies of the surrounding communities.

Externally, the Center plays a critical role in two key presidential initiatives to streamline the federal government and promote national security. We are doing this through process optimization, cost reductions, and collaboration across the FAA and government.

Within the Center are core capabilities the FAA depends on to stay on the leading edge of the aerospace world. Government and industry often look to these core capabilities for advice and research in aerospace and non-aerospace arenas.

At the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, or CAMI, were researching aviation issues related to COVID-19. For instance, the data weve collected and the studies weve conducted on the aircraft cabin environment have provided a framework to help manufacturers improve cabin air quality on board.

And our experts dont limit themselves to aircraft cabins. With its human factors research capabilities, CAMI has taken a lead role in the cutting-edge field of commercial space transportation. They conducted the research that resulted in guidance for how to screen whether civilians can endure the rigors of space flight. Thats particularly important given in the coming years when suborbital rides become practically available and affordable.

Other groundbreaking research underway at CAMI will help pilots see through the weather and fly like they are in visual conditions, essentially giving enhanced sight to pilots.  

Through this research—which involves the most modern head-up displays and flight vision systems—engineers and scientists are determining how to safely expand aircraft operations in instrument weather conditions. For example, were studying how to use new sensors and display technology to give pilots the situational awareness they need to complete the final portion of a flight using electronically enhanced vision rather than natural sight. This will give a big edge to those who equip.

Ill be the first to tell you as a former airline pilot, that these technologies can change the way we fly in the future. At the FAA, we refer to these types of procedures and technologies as Equivalent Visual Operations.” Oklahoma is a big part of that future.

Lets talk about a few of the other out-of-this-world assets at CAMI:

  • We have a retired Boeing 747-100 that has its cabin partitioned into four section in order to do multiple research and training activities at the same time.
  • We have a Flexible Cabin Evacuation Simulator that simulates the cabin of multiple types of narrow-body aircraft, like a regional jet, to study how passengers can get out when the flight attendants tell them to EVACUATE! In the simulation, which may include theatrical smoke, they see the real environment through simulated windows. And when they step out, the cabin is skewed in pitch and roll to simulate a less than stellar landing.
  • We have a Biodynamics Impact Track. This is a sled with “test dummies” on two sets of rails that simulates crash dynamics to a maximum of 50Gs and photographs the action at 1,000 frames per second. We use this capability to study body impact, energy absorbing seats, restraints, and seat certification.
  • We have a forensic Toxicology Analytical Research lab that puts Miami CSI to shame. The lab allows us to stay at the forefront of drug and chemical testing and forensic toxicology research.
  • We are also evolving how we deliver training. In the Air Traffic Control Training and Performance Lab, scientists research how controllers perform on a wide array of cognitive, non-cognitive. and other complex performance measures. That research then helps us to deploy the best training possible for air traffic controllers, which is particularly important as the technology they use for their jobs evolves.
  • Last but not least, there’s the Portable Reduced Oxygen Training Enclosure, or PROTE (Pr-oh-t), a training tool first implemented at Monroney.
    - It used to be that if pilots, or anyone else, wanted to experience the effects of hypoxia in a controlled environment, they had to travel to one of the handful of hypobaric chambers around the country.
    - Naturally, that limited the number of people who could experience hypoxia. PROTE simplifies the process greatly by having the participants breathe modified air with oxygen levels cut down to 7 percent from the usual 21 percent, which is equivalent to an altitude of 25,000 ft.
    - Through the test, they can discover their individual hypoxia symptoms. PROTE opens the experience to a much broader swath of pilots at any location across the U.S. I think you’d agree that it’s better to learn these symptoms with PROTE rather than in the cockpit or cabin.

We have talked a lot about research, but theres another huge component of MMAC that you air traffic controllers out there are familiar with—the MMAC Training Academy. The academy provides technical training to FAA engineers and technicians that deploy and maintain all of the equipment across the NAS including major systems like radar and instrument landing systems.  They also train FAA aviation safety inspectors who work directly with the airlines.

Like most training providers these days, the Academy is modernizing how it delivers the educational experience. As an example, during radar training courses, students can now tap into a live feed of certain radar systems during classroom training that previously relied only on static presentations. Word of the academys capabilities gets around too, in fact the Department of Homeland Securitys Customs and Border Protection sends its equipment operators and technicians to the academy for technical training.  Even Commercial Space Transportation benefits from the incredible talent at the FAA Academy.  The Academy developed a training course to help domestic and international government organizations navigate the process of commercial space licensing, the key areas of FAA responsibility in space.

Speaking of sharing the wealth, MMACs Enterprise Services Center does just that. It is the shared service provider for the financial and IT services for 37 different federal agencies. In fact, many of you may be surprised to learn the Enterprise Services Center provided financial management services across all nine operating modal administrations for the Department of Transportation.

Beyond MMAC, theres a lot of other aerospace to talk about in Oklahoma. When it comes to commercial space transportation, you get it. While you arent launching rockets – at least right now—youve had an FAA licensed site for doing just that since 2006. At one time, several companies were eyeing the spaceport for suborbital passenger rides and beyond, including Rocketplane Kistler and Armadillo Aerospace, at the Clinton-Sherman Industrial Airpark.

To help keep the airspace system running, the FAA Logistic Center in Oklahoma City provides consulting, engineering, repair, distribution, and technical support for air traffic control services in the United States and 44 countries where we fly.

And to meet Oklahomas long-term goal of growing your airports infrastructure, the FAA has invested nearly $90 million in Airport Improvement Program grants for various projects throughout the state.

Before I sign off, Id like to give kudos to MMAC Director Michelle Coppedge, for her active role in the chamber and for forging close relationships with the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University, as well as the local two-year community colleges and the vital roles that they play. These Universities and community colleges are critical partners in creating a healthy and diverse STEM workforce pipeline for the Center. We appreciate her efforts, but I know she could use the help of Oklahoma businesses in becoming ambassadors for the excellent career opportunities available in your state.

The sky is the limit for those opportunities in the future. You know, thats been the case since the early days of aviation. Back in 1928, theres a good reason the Braniff brothers started their storied airline careers here. Around the same time, Wiley Post, widely considered the father of Oklahoman aviation, began his quest for aviation records. He was not deterred by the fact that hed lost an eye in an oil rig accident. He would go forward and achieve world records for taking aircraft around the world and to altitudes that were unimaginable in the early 20th Century. To me, thats the spirit that fuels the aerospace industry in Oklahoma.

And from my perspective as a pilot, it is truly inspiring that Sooners are advancing Posts lead, continually taking their state to greater heights of aviation safety and efficiency.

Thank you. Its been a pleasure speaking with you. I can take some questions now.

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