"Building the Foundation for Aviation’s Future"
A. Bradley B. Mims, Virtual Event
March 31, 2021
U.S. Chamber of Commerce Aviation Summit
Thank you to the U.S. Chamber for inviting me to say a few words about the FAA and this nation’s critical aviation infrastructure. I’m honored to be here.
There’s an old saying that most of you have probably heard: A mile of highway will take you one mile….but a mile of runway will take you anywhere.
There’s no hyperbole in that statement – it’s true. And in fact, extend that runway by another mile, and you can pretty much go non-stop to anywhere.
I saw the magic of runways firsthand during my time at the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority a few years ago. We operated the Reagan National and Dulles International airports. Before that, I spent a few years as the head of government relations for the FAA.
Both jobs made it clear that runways are the launch pads that fuel world commerce and economies, and bring people….cultures…and ideas…. closer together.
But I also know, from my 40 years in the transportation business, that runways won’t take you anywhere without the HUGE and largely UNSEEN infrastructure that supports the entire aviation system- and this nation.
Air traffic control towers; TRACONs; En route centers; the ATC command center; ground navigation aids; satellite-based navigation aids; ADS-B; ground-based communications equipment and outlets; tracking radar; secondary surveillance radar; automation systems; terminal Doppler weather radar; weather stations; weather cameras; flight service stations; airport lighting systems; instrument landing systems; runway safety tools…I’d keep going but I only have five minutes.
It’s the FAA’s job to operate and maintain all of that infrastructure—more than 12,000 facilities in total spread across all 50 states and U.S. territories. We employ a large corps of highly trained air traffic controllers and technical professionals to keep everything on track.
And by the way, over the past year, our courageous and dedicated infrastructure employees have been doing this work—safely—in the midst of a global pandemic….
They are the reason we have a resilient and robust infrastructure that did not let us down, even in darkest hours of COVID-19. We were able to keep air traffic and cargo moving around the globe—initially transporting response supplies—and more recently, life-saving vaccines.
So when we talk about infrastructure and sustainment investment in the country as a whole, it’s very important we do not forget about the National Airspace System and its backbone—the facilities and equipment that make the system available 24-7-365, and more importantly, when we need it the most. Aviation infrastructure must be right up there with our highways, railways and waterways in terms of importance.
The time to act is now, because the aviation infrastructure is showing its age. We have a backlog of nearly $5 billion in upgrade and modernization improvements for our facilities, and a great many of those need it now—they’re in poor condition. And that’s not even addressing the facilities that really need to be replaced.
Overall, the FAA has about $3 billion a year in unfunded infrastructure requirements through 2030, so the need is real.
As you all know, infrastructure is also jobs.
A big part of my job here at the FAA is to make sure we get the infrastructure support that we need, as well as to remove any barriers from recruiting the next generation of aerospace workers who will operate that infrastructure.
We want the best, brightest, and most diverse group of people from all walks of life, and I look forward to working with everyone here to make sure that we recruit more women, minorities, and people from underserved communities for the aerospace workforce.
With this workforce and major investments in aviation infrastructure, our aerospace system can be greener, will continue to fuel the U.S. and world economies, and once again bring people, cultures, and ideas closer together.
Thank you for listening.