ALTA Airline Leaders Forum

Administrator Stephen M Dickson (August 12, 2019 - present)

Remarks As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Amanda Pinheiro [Consultant at AP Communications], for that kind introduction. Bom Dia  [Good morning] to everyone. It’s great to be here in the capital city of Brasilia. Although I’ve flown to many South American countries in my years as an airline pilot, this is my first trip to Brazil.

As for Brasilia, I can think of no better location for this important Forum than a city built nearly 60 years ago in the shape of an airplane. A design that mimics one of our greatest human achievements—powered flight—is a fitting architectural icon when it comes to spurring the imagination and progress. 

I’d like to thank our gracious hosts, ALTA and in particular, Felipe [de Oliveira, ALTA’s Executive Director], as well as my counterparts here in Brazil, including ANAC, DECEA, Infraero and SAC.

The United States and Brazil have long been leaders in civil aviation. We honor the vision, passion and perseverance of our aviation pioneers—the Wright Brothers and Alberto Santos Dumont—more than 100 years ago.

Since then, the United States and the broader Latin America and Caribbean regions have made significant progress starting almost 90 years ago with the Havana Convention, which was later replaced by the Chicago Convention. Provisions in the Convention enabled U.S.-owned airlines to freely operate services within North and South America. 

It was more than 75 years ago when the FAA’s forerunner, the Civil Aeronautics Administration, launched its first Inter-American Training Program to train future pilots, mechanics and airways technicians.

Today, air transport is an economic engine in the Latin America and Caribbean regions:  

  • In Latin American and the Caribbean, aviation contributes more than $150 billion to the region’s GDP while connecting 160 global cities.
  • Airlines in the region generate more than 7 million jobs and support 2.6 million flights per year.
  • Since 2012, the annual passenger traffic growth to, from and within Latin America has averaged nearly 6%, and the industry expects that strong growth to continue.
  • The Latin American Fleet has been transformed over the past twenty years, from one of the oldest in the world in terms of average ago to one of the youngest.

And that gets to the heart of why I’m here—To keep aviation a healthy and competitive industry, safety must be our foundation and top priority.

The accidents in Indonesia and Ethiopia—and the tragic loss of 346 lives—remind us in the strongest terms that passengers expect one level of safety no matter where they fly. Without that confidence as a baseline, there’s no need for competitiveness—the public will simply not fly.

Before I say more, I would like to acknowledge again the tragic loss of life in the Lion Air and Ethiopian Boeing 737 MAX accidents, especially as we approach the one-year anniversary of the Lion Air crash. Our thoughts are with the families and friends during this difficult time.

We want them to know that we are working our hardest to improve the margin of safety for the aviation industry globally, and that we are fully committed to implementing the recommendations from the various groups reviewing our processes as part of the necessary work of continuous improvement on safety.

The FAA and other international authorities are working diligently to ensure that this type of accident does not occur again. Getting it right is the most important part of the safety community’s obligation to the traveling public.

I would like to recognize our colleagues here in Brazil for their help on various aspects of the MAX analyses and reviews. Included are Roberto Honorato, of ANAC, and two of his colleagues who were members of the Joint Authorities Technical Review, or JATR. I will speak more about the JATR’s work and the MAX return-to-service later.

When I was at Delta, I was responsible for the safety and operational performance of the company’s global flight operations of more than a million flights a year on six continents, as well as pilot training, crew resources, crew scheduling and regulatory compliance.

That job made me understand this fact: To remain competitive in an industry of fast-paced change and increasing complexities, safety must be our main focus and core value.

I understand very well that there is always a certain tension between accomplishing the mission –getting the job done- and focusing on safety.

For example, pilots always have to deal with operational pressure. There is pressure to get customers to their destinations on time. There is pressure to complete the flight—pressure to accomplish the mission. We need to see this in ourselves and every so often step back and make sure we are doing things the right way, which means the safest way and usually the most efficient way because safety is built into the process.

And leadership needs to back their people up. You can ask any Delta pilot, and if they were around during my tenure they heard me say repeatedly: “make the tough call and I will support you. If ever you need to stop the operation in the interest of safety, do it. Set the parking brake, get everything sorted out, and get everyone on the same page before proceeding. If you need help or resources, ask for them. If it turns out we need to delay or cancel the flight then we will. I will support you every time.” There will always be pressure to get the job done. But we can’t let it compromise our duty to do things the right way—the safest way.

Secondly, the abilities for self-examination and continuous improvement need to be ingrained in us. What we did yesterday, and what we are doing today will not be good enough tomorrow. Everything in our business is changing so fast and we have to able to stay ahead of that pace of change.

This is in so many ways the most exciting time in the history of aviation, probably since the introduction of the jet engine into commercial service, or going back even further to the DC-3.

We’re seeing radically new entrants vying for access into the airspace…the likes of which 20 years ago, heck, even five years ago, were science fiction. The FAA has already registered more than 1.4 million small drones, about 400,000 of which are for commercial purposes; we’ve approved two Air Taxi applications.

As a point of reference for how fast this industry is moving, the FAA has been registering manned aircraft for 92 years, and after only four years of registering drones, we’ve got four times as many on the books.

Flying taxis—aka urban air mobility—are on the horizon and chomping at the bit to begin airspace testing. According to the FAA UAS team, we are currently engaged with the builders of more than 15 electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft projects.

We have proposed new rules that will remove bureaucracy and streamline the testing process for a new generation of civil supersonic aircraft.

We have civilian space pioneers getting ready to take suborbital excursions offered by multiple startup space companies at non-traditional launch sites, like Oklahoma or Alcantara in Northern Brazil.

And let’s not forget airspace modernization. On January 1, ADS-B— the backbone of our next-generation, or NextGen, air traffic management system—will become the primary surveillance technology in most U.S. controlled airspace. As of early October, we surpassed the 100,000 mark for equipped aircraft.

On January 1, 2020, all aircraft operating in certain U.S. airspace must be equipped for the ADS-B Out mandate.

Maintaining the highest levels of safety while adapting to technological advancements will be a key part of our success.

To effectively manage all this activity, I have set out four main priorities for my time at the FAA—Safety; Global Leadership; Stakeholder Engagement, and People. Note that my first priority is Safety…

Let’s talk about the MAX. It is crucial that we make safety improvements to the overall aviation system as we learn from the various international efforts analyzing the 737 MAX and its certification.

I’ve said this before but will continue to repeat it: The FAA’s return-to-service decision based solely on our assessment of the sufficiency of Boeing’s proposed software updates and pilot training that addresses the known issues for grounding the aircraft. That decision will be applicable only to U.S. carriers operating in U.S. airspace.

Other civil aviation regulators have to take their own actions to return the 737 MAX to service for their air carriers and their airspace. We are conducting numerous outreach activities….

  • We are providing assistance to support states on return-to-service issues
  • Maintain communication and sharing of information; and
  • Schedule more technical webinars in the future.

As far as regaining public trust in the FAA and the safety of the 737 MAX, when we return it to service, we believe the transparency, open and honest communication, and our willingness to constantly improve our systems and processes are the key.

Transparency into our process, transparency into the independent reviews and changes that result from them, our testimony in congressional hearings, our informational briefings to Congressional staff, and our media outreach through our FAA Office of Communications are all important. The public and civil aviation authorities must know that we are not resting on previous safety rates or current processes.

We welcome feedback on how we certified the 737 MAX and are dedicated to providing the safest aviation system in the world. We remain transparent and communicate our actions with international regulators, so that they have the information to make an informed decision.

As you know, there are multiple different independent investigations and audits ongoing on the 737 MAX and the FAA’s certification and delegation processes. The first to be completed was the Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR) team’s review of the Boeing 737 MAX flight control system certification.In addition to FAA specialists, the JATR team included aviation safety professionals from NASA, Europe, Canada, Brazil, Singapore, Australia, Indonesia, China, United Arab Emirates, and Japan.

We welcomed the team’s recommendations in their final report, and I appreciate their thorough review and hard work.The JATR report highlighted 12 recommendations that would address certain certification and policy-related observations about system safety assessments, human factors, staffing, and oversight of the Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) process.

We are fully committed to address all of the recommendations, with special emphasis on those that might pertain to returning the 737 MAX to service. As we have said repeatedly, the aircraft will fly ONLY after we determine it is safe.

The FAA’s formation of the JATR was an unprecedented step in that direction. Never before, have 10 civil aviation authorities come together to jointly evaluate the certification processes of one of the partners. The scope of inclusion and communication with our international partners far exceeds any previous effort. The decision to launch the JATR was based on full transparency, openness and delivering on our obligation as the global leader in aviation safety.

Based on what we’re learning, I see tremendous opportunities for us to make meaningful improvements to the international aviation system. Included is the need to advocate for a global conversation about deepening the understanding of human factors and raising the standards on pilot training.

In closing, I would like to emphasize that while competitiveness is in our nature—we all strive to be the best and our industry thrives because of it—we cannot compete on safety. 

Safety must be our top priority and most important core value. Without that foundation, we falter as an interconnected global transportation network. 

We at the FAA support ALTA’s mission to provide for the development of a safer, more efficient air transport system, and we thank you for your support of our initiatives of the same.

We remain committed to working closely with our government and industry partners throughout Latin America to address the safety and air navigation challenges in the region, and to increase the margins of safety for all of aviation.

I would like to again thank ALTA for inviting me, and to my counterparts here in Brazil for being such gracious hosts.

Obrigado —Thank you.