Aero Club – “Opportunity”

Administrator Stephen M. Dickson (August 12, 2019 - March 31, 2022)

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thanks, Melissa [Sabatine]. Good afternoon. It’s great to see everyone. I’ve been out on the road more over the past couple of months, and it has been really gratifying to reconnect in person. 

I know many of us have missed the Aero Club luncheons. The virtual format was fine, and I think it has its place. But there is no substitute for being together.

I am truly honored to lead the FAA during what has been probably the most challenging and consequential period in aviation history. 

But I am here today to tell you that we have come through these challenges stronger than ever … Our commitment to safety, operational excellence, our international engagement and leadership, and our commitment to the people at FAA and throughout the aerospace sector has never wavered—in fact, we are more committed than ever. 

Our aerospace system remains safe, resilient, and open for business. We have re-invigorated our safety culture. And that is thanks in large part to the shared, sustained focus and commitment of this community to keep flying—and to do it safely. And because of this focus we are extremely well-positioned to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities before us. 

You know, when Linda received the Engen Trophy, I thought, “Yeah, that’s right. Linda Daschle is someone who moves the needle. She’s a doer. She has helped us advance the cause of safety … modernize the air traffic system … and open doors for people to take advantage of the great opportunities in this industry.”

In fact, that’s what I want to talk to you about today. I don’t think there’s been a time in our careers when we’ve seen so much OPPORTUNITY in aviation and aerospace. Not since the late 1950s when the passenger jet age, and the space age, began has this been the case. This, in so many ways, is the most exciting and consequential time in history at the FAA, and in aerospace.

Think about it. We’ve done the hard work. Two years ago, right here, I said that with challenge comes opportunity. COVID-19 made me look more prescient than I think I really am. 

None of us could have predicted at the time that we could face this kind of disruption to the aviation system. 

The 737 MAX. COVID-19. Tremendous disruption to the commercial aviation and airline industry. An economic slowdown. And other challenges. We have overcome them all, and we are stronger for it.

Every day for weeks and months it seemed, we faced challenges and an ever-changing operational environment—and sometimes wondered whether we would be able to operate at all.

But we proved a lot to ourselves in the process of working together to overcome these challenges to an industry we love so much. We persevere. We are strong. We are resilient. And we are so much better when we work together.

It’s time to take the lessons we’ve learned and direct them toward writing the next chapter of success in aviation and aerospace. 

First, let’s look at the challenges we’ve worked through, starting with the MAX.

When I became FAA Administrator, I made it clear from day one that our focus would be on safety. This is not negotiable. Without safety, we have nothing. For nearly two years, the FAA led an international effort to complete a thorough safety review of the MAX, followed by the recertification and ungrounding of the aircraft. 

Government, industry, and our international partners worked together, tirelessly, to make sure we looked at everything from every angle. We applied the kind of scrutiny safety deserves. The kind of process discipline safety demands. We were steadfast in our determination to do this the right way, and to take as long as it took to get it right.

And from this experience, came opportunities to strengthen not only the aircraft certification process, but also our continued operational safety oversight and safety culture. 

I’ve said many times that safety is a journey, not a destination, and with every challenge, comes opportunities for those who are looking. This is a journey we take with humility … with a steadfast commitment to continuous improvement … and it’s a journey that this community must take together.

We are delegating fewer responsibilities to manufacturers. 

We’re taking a fresh look at the human factors assumptions, including pilot response times. 
And we are working closely with our international partners on pilot training requirements. 
We’re also promoting more expansive use of Safety Management Systems —where safety issues are actively looked for and identified, in a systematic way, and then the root causes are addressed. 

We’ve seen how these programs have delivered in the commercial aviation sector – and now we are expanding SMS to manufacturers and considering it in other areas of the aerospace system.
The MAX and certification reform efforts would have been major undertakings during normal times. But of course this work was made even more complicated because of the pandemic. 

COVID-19 has challenged every part of the system. Air traffic, airports, airlines … and at every turn, the FAA acted to support each part. 

We helped to repatriate tens of thousands of Americans. 

Through the CARES Act, CRISSA, and the President’s American Rescue Plan, we provided billions of dollars to keep aviation workers employed. 

We provided medical guidance to keep passengers and aviation employees safe, and ensured the safe transporting of vaccines to get shots in arms quicker and slow the spread of the virus.  

And we kept our air traffic system operating safely and efficiently, day after day, hour after hour.

And think about the rapid increase in launch cadence and now the beginning of human spaceflight missions in the commercial space sector. This fiscal year, we set a record of 64 FAA-licensed launches and re-entries—more than one a week and nearly double what we saw this time last year. 

Recently Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and SpaceX successfully completed four human spaceflight missions, including the youngest and oldest people to go into space. Heck, even Captain Kirk was beamed up!

Closer to Earth, we are increasingly working together on the safe integration of drones and flying taxis into our airspace system. In fact, I had the pleasure of participating in a recent roundtable with several Advanced Air Mobility CEO’s to talk about their near-term plans and opportunities. This is not pie-in-the-sky stuff. These vehicles and business models are real and they are exciting.

And of course we have continued our airspace modernization efforts, even though COVID threw a monkey wrench into some of our plans. We have continued to deploy infrastructure—remember the ADS-B 2020 mandate? That almost seems like another life now. But we’re picking back up with operationalizing our Data Comm, PBN, and traffic flow management systems.

Through the challenges … the crises … the disruption … of the past two years … comes the opportunity to create a new set of solutions and breakthroughs to build a better aerospace system … one that is even safer, more equitable, and sustainable … and effectively integrates new entrants.

So it’s time for us to pivot … time for us to seize the opportunities that have come from this disruption. 

It’s time to reinvigorate relationships, and start writing the next chapter in the success of this great industry. One of my leaders said it very well a few weeks ago when we were talking about taking advantage of what we’ve all learned during COVID: “Take the best, and leave the rest!” 

Today, we’re looking at an industry that’s different in many ways from the industry we knew in March of 2020. Air passenger travel is coming back. But the recovery is uneven, and it may look different. 

Consumer decisions have changed across a whole host of industries, and air travel is no exception. 

The mix of passengers is likely to be different. Their preferences for destinations and frequency of travel may be different. 

The good news is that Congress just provided and the President signed into law a once-in-a-generation bill that invests $25 billion in our airports and air traffic facilities. Not only will the changes in demand mean that airports need more capacity … but our airports will need to be sustainable and have less impacts on the communities that host them. And these resources will provide a badly-needed down payment on replacing and sustaining our air traffic facilities infrastructure.

This change in demand will also drive changes in the physical product on the airplane. And of course the recovery in the international market is nascent and hard to predict.

We also continue to see rapid technological advances with drones, rockets, and other new vehicles. The pace and breadth of these advances will only accelerate. 

To support the increased cadence of commercial space transportation, we streamlined launch and reentry requirements, and we’re developing the Space Data Integrator capability. This will enable continued growth beyond what we have seen already. 

And for drones, the FAA issued two major rules earlier this year: Operations Over People and Remote Identification. We’re looking ahead to Beyond Visual Line of Sight operations. And we’re looking at Advanced Air Mobility, and expecting to certify the first of those flying taxis around the 2024 timeframe.

We could potentially see Advanced Air Mobility leveraging local and regional airports, serving as a way to connect smaller communities with big cities. We could also see AAM providing short haul point-to-point service between nearby cities … and stand-alone vertiports that are dedicated to AAM operations. 

You might envision an AAM network that sits below and is integrated with the traditional commercial aviation network. And it could be a game-changer for communities that need more transportation options or rely heavily on aviation, like in Alaska. 

But we need to address local community concerns when integrating AAM and drones, and that means solving potential challenges such as noise and privacy. 

Stepping outside of the box for a moment, electric aircraft could also potentially address the noise concerns, and meet these regional transportation needs. To make this feasible, we would need advances in battery capabilities, charging and reliability.

With the kind of innovation we continue to see, and the turnover hastened by COVID-19, this industry needs new people with new skill sets. 

We have to go after the talent before the other industries do. 

We’re working hard and creatively to make the aerospace field more welcoming to all people, including through the FAA’s Adopt-A-School program, a robust internship program with students from Minority Serving Institutions, and also leveraging our social and digital media capabilities to promote STEM education and career opportunities. 

And we’re supporting the Airport Design Challenge, which started yesterday, Nov 15, in which K-12 age kids use the Minecraft video game to design virtual airports.  

These kinds of efforts, and ones made by industry will help us attract the best, brightest, and most diverse group of people from all walks of life, to seek careers in aviation and aerospace.

We know that diverse teams enable us to look at things from every angle, make better decisions, innovate at greater rates, and solve problems faster. 

We’re going to need “people power” as we address climate concerns, and the need to build a more sustainable, greener aerospace system.

Simply put, climate change is the biggest environmental threat facing the world, one that we can’t leave to the next generation. My wife and I welcomed our fourth grandchild about three months ago. And we want to leave them a better world.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg recently announced our comprehensive Aviation Climate Action Plan that shows how we will get to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. 

The FAA is doing our part. We’re making air traffic operations more efficient with new systems like the Terminal Flight Data Manager program. This program leverages airline operational performance data to calculate the best time to have aircraft pushback from the gate, so they can roll right to the runway. It’s not just a better passenger experience, but it also means less taxi time, less fuel burn, and fewer emissions.

And as we improve operations, we are partnering with the nation’s best minds to research the development of more fuel efficient aircraft. 

The research we do today holds the answers we are going to need tomorrow ... and those answers matter because we are just a generation and a half away from the planes that will be in service in 2050 … when we must meet our goal of net zero emissions. 

So we have more efficient operations, more efficient planes. The big piece of the puzzle is to scale up sustainable aviation fuels. One of the big challenges to make this happen is building a supply chain … yes, that thing you have heard about in the news a ton. 

So we are collaborating with universities in the Pacific Northwest, Midwest, South, and Northeast to see how we can help stand up regional supply chains to get sustainable aviation fuels to airports.

When it comes to sustainability, we as an industry need to step up. We need to do better with the technology we have, and we certainly need to do better in developing technology that will take us to the next level of green.  

In looking at this vision – new workforce … new airspace entrants … better infrastructure ... sustainability … it becomes clear that we must approach our challenges in a strategic and holistic way. 

With that in mind, the FAA is continuing to execute our strategic plan, Flight Plan 21. 

The plan establishes four priorities – or what we call “Pillars” – Safety, People, Global Leadership and Operational Excellence. 

We’re already good at safety, but we can always improve—we MUST always improve. We can never be complacent or satisfied. The Safety pillar will help us stay ahead of all the rapid innovations in our industry.

We are actively expanding our portfolio of data collection and analytics tools, and improving our sharing of safety data within the FAA and with industry stakeholders and international partners. Right now we are proactive. We want to become predictive.

Under the People pillar, we’ll put a focus on transforming the FAA’s policies and practices to meet evolving workforce needs. We’re looking at how to balance the benefits of using virtual technologies and telework settings with the benefits of having in-office, in-person interaction. 

We’re going to re-imagine onboarding, training, and employee engagement to create more positive experiences for our workforce.

Through the Global Leadership pillar, we will strengthen our partnerships, share more data and information with them, and boost safety everywhere, particularly as we integrate a growing number of exciting new technologies. Passengers expect and deserve the same level of safety wherever in the world they may fly.   
And our fourth pillar is Operational Excellence. As we open the National Airspace System to a broader set of users, we have to reconsider what is the right type and level of service, including how best to deliver that service. 

This pillar will bring us into the future with a data-driven and operationally contextualized methodology to help us keep up with evolving stakeholder demands.

If I were to summarize everything I’ve said here today in one sentence, it would be this: It's the dawn of a new age in aerospace. We are seeing a tremendous level of diversity and innovation in this field. The opportunity is there—let’s grab it. 

Let’s reinvigorate our relationships. 

Let’s take the lessons we’ve learned from the past two years, and apply them to develop a new set of solutions for this industry. Take the best, and leave the rest.

And as we seize these unprecedented opportunities, we’ll make aviation and aerospace even more successful than ever before. I’m excited to be part of this journey with all of you.

    Thanks everyone—thank you for being here today and for your collaboration and leadership.