Aero Club of Washington Luncheon

Former Acting Administrator, Daniel K. Elwell (February 2018–August 09, 2019)

Thank you, Margaret.

I’ve attended many Aero Club luncheons over the years. So, it’s a bit surreal to be looking at all of you from this side of the podium.

I’ve had a lot of those moments this year. Being back at the agency… it’s humbling. It hit me when I was at Udvar Hazy a few weeks ago. Aviation has such an amazing legacy.

I saw the Blackbird… 1960s technology with analog dials and Mach 4 capability.

I saw the Concorde, and the Space Shuttle. And the iconic Boeing 707. They’re just a few of aviation’s monuments.

A few of those birds were the brainchild of Kelly Johnson, and there are more than a handful of others who owed a debt of gratitude to the founder of Skunk Works.

He used to have a saying “Be quick, be quiet, and be on time.” Sounds like an airline mission statement, but I’m pretty sure he was talking to his engineers.

And, I think we can all agree. We are right “on time” for something big.

We find ourselves on the cusp of the third great era of aviation: the age of autonomous and unmanned aircraft.

The jet age was just as consequential. But in many ways, it was simpler. The skies weren’t as crowded as they are today.

Now, we’re looking at a future where thousands of airliners still crisscross the globe. But they’re joined by huge commercial rockets – and a million drones.

I’m not sure we appreciate how much of a seismic change it’s going to be – for all of us.

Government and industry have spent the last few decades honing the system. We carved out our roles, and figured out how to work together. 

But for aviation to continue to thrive … the system we have today must get better.

We don’t want to be caught flat-footed this time around.  We want to be ready for the next era of aviation. Especially since we almost missed the boat with the first.

This is what guys like me aren’t supposed to talk about. The “original sin” government committed against this industry.

The Wrights may have been bicycle repairmen, but they were no strangers to the pen.  They wrote letter after letter after letter—all sent to an address not far from where we’re sitting right now.  

They told Washington what they had.  They explained that they’d conquered the impossible. And Uncle Sam shrugged.

Thank you for your interest, Mr. Wright, but we at the War Department have already invested in our own flight experiment—with Samuel Langley.

That was a solid plan—right up until the moment Mr. Langley’s project crashed into the Potomac.

Conclusion? If the government couldn’t solve this problem… then it couldn’t be solved. Until, of course, it was.

That was an early and important lesson that still applies today: Innovation fuels aviation, and innovation rarely comes from the federal government.

And there’s an important corollary to that lesson: Bureaucrats shouldn’t tell innovators what they can’t do. See? It’s right there…page 27, section 3, paragraph 1, subpart b – in the footnote.

We’ve had too many of those exchanges in the past. But, that’s changing. And that’s thanks, in part, to a lot of what’s in a 400 page piece of legislation.

We’ve got a new five-year authorization – the longest the FAA has had in more than 35 years. It doesn’t have everything we asked for. No bill ever does. But it’s full of a lot of good things.

We have a mandate to accelerate our momentum on unmanned aircraft. It clears the way to remote identification standards. It supports us moving forward on long-awaited rules for drone operations over people and at night.

And we will be coordinating closely with our federal law enforcement partners in the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice who have new authority to counter the malicious use of UAS.

Congress didn’t stop there. The new law authorizes an increase in commercial space funding – to the tune of 236 percent over the next five years. We’ll also be creating an Office of Spaceports.

It even sets us up for the return of supersonic aircraft. That’s something most of us thought we’d never see again. And those aircraft advancements will be aided by a reformed certification system that helps manufacturers press ideas into metal faster.

There’s plenty more where that comes from. In fact, there’s so much more…we’re using a 30-page spreadsheet to track hundreds of deliverables we’re responsible for over the next five years.

But we still want more legislatively.  We need more.  We need funding reform.

This isn’t about more money. We collect plenty to keep the system running. What we need is stability and predictability. It would also be nice to have the flexibility to spend that money how and where and when we need to.

That may be asking a lot, but something has to give. We’re in our 47th continuing resolution in the last 11 years.

The FAA hasn’t started a fiscal year with a full appropriation since 1997. Think about that for a second.  We support two-thirds of the world’s airspace… nearly a billion passengers… and 5 percent of the GDP.

That’s your bottom line. That’s America’s bottom line. And it’s just no way to run the largest, most complex air navigation system in the world.

President Trump gets that. He’s a businessman. And he’s bringing those same principles to this Administration. He told us to get rid of rules that have outlived their usefulness.

You don’t have to tell us twice. Under Secretary Chao’s leadership, DOT leads the federal government in cutting outdated, burdensome and unnecessary regulations.  And the FAA has been the largest contributor to the Department’s success in this area.

We’re answering the President’s call to cut two regulations for every new one. At the same time, we’re busy creating a new and improved regulatory framework for drones and commercial space transportation.  

This year alone, we’ve taken deregulatory actions that should save $65 million – annually.

But this isn’t just about saving dollars. It’s about saving time. About making it easier for people to operate in our system.

These are our commercial space launch and reentry licensing regs today.

Soon, they’ll look like this.

We’ve got momentum on this, and believe me when I tell you, we’re just getting started.  

These streamlining efforts go well beyond rulemaking. We’re using technology to clear out many of the pain points in our system. The delays… the inefficiencies… the bottlenecks.

The Northeast Corridor brings the system to its knees. It’s a petri dish for delays due to weather, construction and volume.  About a third of all delays in the system originate in the Northeast Corridor.

So I want you to know we know how important this artery is to our nation – and what happens when it’s clogged. That’s why we’re adding Performance Based Navigation procedures, and prioritizing initial trajectory-based operations that will reduce congestion in the region.

But we’re not just about this side of the country.  We’re rolling out technologies and procedures all across the NAS – with more on the way.  

We’re standing up Data Comm En Route Services in Memphis, Indianapolis and Kansas City that should be operational before the end of this year.

The ADS-B mandate is about fourteen months from taking effect. We don’t want you to find yourself on the wrong side of that, stuck in the hangar on New Year’s.  We re-launched the incentive program, and more of you are getting equipped every day.  

We’re also gearing up for the Terminal Flight Data Manager, which will improve controllers’ situational awareness. We’ll begin rolling out those capabilities in 2020.

Of course, individual programs have deadlines, but overall system improvement doesn’t. We don’t have a hard stop on safety or efficiency.  

That’s what these things are doing in the cockpit and on the ground and in the tower. The system’s not slowing down, so we have to do our best to keep up.  

The fact is, if the FAA is going to achieve its mission, safety and innovation can’t be at odds. I truly believe that innovation is the future of safety.

Government shouldn’t be a stop signal for great ideas. It should be a springboard.  Moving map displays. Remote towers. Artificial intelligence. They’re game-changers.  And we need to support them.  

When Secretary Chao launched the UAS Integration Pilot Program, she was all in. She was talking about drones, but that attitude applies to everything we’re doing.  

The President, the Vice President, and the Secretary have given us the green light to think outside the box. The stars don’t always line up like that. And we need to take advantage. I think we already are… but we can do more.

I want to create an innovation incubator inside the FAA. It’ll separate out early innovation from real-time operations, so that good ideas don’t die on the vine.

We’ll give people the freedom to tackle tough questions, and the time to figure out how a new technology can be incorporated into the NAS.

If it works, we’re off to the races. If not, we haven’t wasted much time.

We’ll measure success by our ability to disrupt the status quo and break down obstacles – so that new ideas can be transformed into concrete actions without disturbing current operations.

And let me just say… this isn’t just about being a better service provider and regulator. It’s about maintaining our position as a global leader.

I think we take this for granted sometimes. In the international community, we used to say, “Speak softly and carry a big market share.”

We can’t do that anymore, because times have changed. The rest of the world is catching up.

Complacency will kill us.  Especially if you consider the sheer volume of innovative ideas coming at our agency on an almost daily basis. 

Next year, go to InterDrone or the Consumer Electronics Show. I’ll be there. I don’t just want to see what they’re doing—I need to see it. Because they’re figuring out solutions to challenges we haven’t even thought of yet.

We need to support these innovators—let them know they’ve got a seat at our table. We can't afford to alienate them.

Because, the fact is… we’re staring down a workforce crisis. I know there’s been some debate about this. But, while we discuss the “why”, the “what” is moving right along. If you look at the facts… look at the numbers… they paint a clear picture.

The number of pilots holding active airmen certificates has decreased by nearly 30% since the 80’s. Maintenance isn’t exempt, either. Our technical workforce is aging at the same time our pipeline is running dry.

We’re competing with Silicon Valley for talent. And we’re losing.  If we don’t turn this around, and I mean soon, we’re going to have empty flight decks. Not unmanned – empty. 

That’s why Secretary Chao, Air Force Secretary Wilson and I held an aviation workforce summit a few months ago.

We brought together stakeholders from government, industry, and academia to start talking about the pipelines, pathways, and partnerships we need to get young people excited about careers in aviation again.

Because that’s gotta be part of the solution. We all have to roll up our sleeves if this is going to work.  Each of us must take a personal and direct role in spreading the aviation bug. I caught it in elementary school.

It’s a little ironic that aviation has a mojo crisis right now. I mean – what kid wouldn’t want to pilot a drone, or a space craft – or your own jet pack?

This workforce dilemma – we’re going to solve it. Like we do everything else – with collaboration, calls to action, or just plain elbow grease.

But mark my words: there is a solution, and we will find it.  Because that’s what we do. Look at our monuments.

When I’m at Udvar Hazy…I love going to Udvar-Hazy…I see our past. But I also think about our future.

Where are the next Wright Brothers? Would we even recognize them if they knocked on our door? Or worse… if they knocked, would we know to answer? The War Department didn’t.

Where’s our next Kelly Johnson? We can’t presume he’s in this room having lunch with us. He, or she, might be working a booth at ComicCon. Or tooling away in a garage with the next Steve Wozniak.

We’ve got to stop and think and ask the question, what are the monuments this next generation is going to build?

I don’t know. But I’m excited to find out.

Be quick: Respond to innovation.

Be quiet: Keep your head down and do the work, unhindered by unnecessary rules.

Be on time: Recognize this moment we’re in… and what it requires of us.

This is a new and exciting era—for new entrants, for innovation, for aviation. Let’s make it memorable.

Thank you.