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Testimony – Statement of Michael Huerta

July 17, 2013

Statement of Michael Huerta, Administrator

Before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation on the Progress we are Making with NextGen.

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you Chairman LoBiondo, Ranking Member Larsen and members of the subcommittee. I appreciate the opportunity to testify before you today on the progress we are making with NextGen.

Mr. Chairman, before I begin my testimony, I want to express that our thoughts and prayers are with the passengers and crew of Asiana Flight 214, and their families. I am sure the Committee appreciates that the ongoing accident investigation is in the early stages, and I am not able to speculate about the cause of the crash. The FAA is fully supporting the investigation of the National Transportation Safety Board, and we will continue to do so throughout the process. We are also fully supporting the NTSB investigation into the crash of an air taxi in Alaska earlier this month. Our thoughts and prayers are with those families as well. 

We are participating in the investigation of the fire aboard the Ethiopian Airways Boeing 787 in London last week. The FAA has sent a specialist to Heathrow Airport in support of the British government’s investigation into that incident.

Safety is our mission at the FAA, and we are working to continuously enhance our policies and procedures. Last week, we issued a new rule requiring more hours of experience for first officers who fly for U.S. airlines. We are also requiring these first officers to earn a type rating, which involves additional training and testing, specific to the aircraft they fly.  

The Next Generation Air Transportation System is helping us enhance safety and efficiency by transforming our aviation infrastructure. NextGen technologies guide aircraft on more direct routes, save fuel and decrease delays. That’s not only good for the environment, it saves airlines money and is good for business.

We are delivering the objectives of NextGen as promised. We have consistently met more than 80 percent of our implementation milestones over the last five years, which is extraordinary when dealing with a complex technological program. Overall, NextGen is on track. And yes, there have been delays, but we have learned from these and incorporated those lessons in the way we move forward.  

We are making all of these improvements in a dynamic operating environment. We have found that collaboration is the key to success and to providing the best benefits to all of our stakeholders. We have a detailed plan to implement NextGen, and this plan is integrated into our enterprise architecture for our entire national airspace system. At the same time, we are flexible enough to adjust our course. This approach is working, and we are delivering benefits to our stakeholders now.

A good example is Memphis, where we have increased airport capacity by more than 20 percent since last fall. By working with our partners, we were able to revise wake turbulence separation standards. This allows aircraft to safely depart –one behind another – slightly closer together than before.

In Atlanta, we worked to safely allow jets to take off on headings that are slightly closer together. This small change has resulted in a 10 percent increase in departures per hour from the world’s busiest airport. We estimate customers have saved more than 11,000 hours of waiting in line to take-off last year thanks to NextGen.

We expect these improvements will save the airlines $20 million this year in Atlanta alone. And we intend to bring this type of efficiency to other major airports.

We have brought together all of our stakeholders – airports, airlines, our air traffic controllers, managers and other federal agencies to decrease congestion in the airspace over busy metropolitan areas nationwide. Through the Metroplex initiative, we’re working in north Texas and Houston, northern and southern California, Atlanta, Charlotte and right here in Washington, D.C.

Airlines flying into the D.C. metro area have started using these NextGen procedures. We estimate they will save $2.3 million in fuel per year and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 7,300 metric tons. And these benefits will increase as we develop more procedures.

Just as industry depends on us to deliver the best benefits now, we depend on industry to share information with us to help measure the benefits that NextGen provides. As I said earlier, collaboration is key. Only by investing the time, dedication and commitment, will we continue to see the best benefits.

Mr. Chairman, last year Congress reauthorized the FAA for four years and laid out a vision with bipartisan consensus to address the future needs of our aviation system. These needs have not gone away. Yet under the sequester and the current climate of fiscal uncertainty, the FAA needs to make sizeable budget cuts that affect our operations, NextGen, and our future. This uncertainty undermines the roadmap that the FAA and Congress laid out for NextGen. It was only last year that we all agreed that these goals were extremely important to protect the great contribution that civil aviation makes to our economy.

We are facing many challenges, but we must stay the course. Our aviation system needs these improvements and the cost of not doing them is far greater than the cost of moving forward. It’s important for us to work together to ensure that the United States continues to lead the world in aviation technology.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared remarks. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have. 



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