ALTA Airline Leaders Forum

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

Thank you, Ms Correia for that kind introduction. Buenas Tardes [Good afternoon] everyone. It’s a great honor to be here in the capital city of Bogota for this conference. This is my first trip to Colombia as the FAA’s Administrator, and my first trip anywhere outside of the U.S. since February 2020. 

Despite the amazing progress we’ve all made with virtual meetings—I am reminded today of how vitally important it is that we meet in person when we can. That’s the power of aviation after all, to bring people and cultures together quickly, safely, and efficiently.  

I’d like to thank our gracious host country, Colombia, my counterparts at Aerocivil, and ALTA, and in particular to Mr. Botelho [ALTA’s Executive Director and CEO] and everyone else involved for making this Leaders Forum a reality. 

There’s never been a more important time for us to come together as leaders, and to stand as one. With COVID-19, we’ve seen what can happen when the core benefit of aviation—bringing people and cultures together—can also be its biggest threat. 

But working together as one global community, we made sure this vital lifeline—international aviation—has remained viable and resilient to deliver people and cargo to their destinations. 

  • Through the ICAO Council Aviation Recovery Task Force, we worked with world health experts to deliver guidance to airlines and airports to make travel as safe as possible for passengers and employees. 
  • We worked to keep aviation moving, and strategically to plot a path forward for a coordinated recovery from the pandemic. I’m particularly optimistic about the upcoming holiday season with the lifting of our U.S. restrictions for non-essential travel next month. 

There is light at the end of the tunnel for the COVID crisis. But what about tomorrow’s threats to the future of this industry? 

I believe the sustainability is one of the biggest challenges we face right now. To be sustainable, we must pursue an approach that nurtures continued economic success in parallel with addressing environmental and societal impacts. That includes operating as safely as we can, minimizing our carbon footprint and community impact, and finding the next generation of aerospace workers to keep this industry thriving. 

Given the title of my talk—How Prepared is America for the Future of Sustainable Travel?— I’ll give you my conclusion first—Yes, we the Americas—North, Central, South, and the Caribbean—are prepared to make sure that we have a sustainable future for air travel, and I’ll tell you why.....

Let me start with safety, because without safety, we can’t have a sustainable aviation system within any country, much less, between countries. 

Safety is journey, not a destination, and at the FAA, we are constantly evolving as a regulator and an air navigation services provider to fulfill our mandate of operating the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world. And we are constantly working with our neighbors to share our lessons learned. 

Sharing our experiences is particularly important as we integrate exciting new forms of transportation into our national airspace systems—commercial space vehicles, drones, and flying taxis, to name a few. A few weeks ago, I traveled to a business aviation conference in Las Vegas and met with many flying taxi startups—and I will tell you that they’re serious, and they are very eager to begin revenue service, which I think will be possible around the 2024 timeframe. 

These are exciting developments, but we, as regulators, must balance innovation with providing an aerospace system that is safe and efficient, and has the public’s trust. We have to constantly reevaluate our operations, particularly during times of fast changes and when we open the system to new entrants. I am a strong believer in safety management systems—SMS—as a tool that helps manage these changes, and take us to the next level of safety globally. With SMS, we use data to reactively—and more importantly proactively—identify safety issues, determine root causes, and identify effective corrective action.  

U.S. airlines are already required to have an SMS, and we recently initiated a rulemaking that considers requiring aircraft manufacturers to adopt SMS. We are also considering SMS requirements for repair stations, air carriers, charter operators, and certain air tour operators. 

Safety is good business even when it’s not required, and we are also making excellent progress with industry participation in voluntary SMS programs. 

Currently in the U.S., five design and manufacturing organizations are using voluntary SMS, and several others are setting up programs. 

We are actively expanding our portfolio of data collection and analytics tools so we can more effectively share safety data within the FAA and among industry stakeholders and international partners. As you know, data is the key to early identification of potential hazards and safety problems, a task that helps our Commercial Aviation Safety Team, or CAST, develop targeted solutions across the industry. 

I know that ALTA is benefitting similarly through your collaboration with the Regional Aviation Safety Group-Pan America, the Latin America equivalent of CAST. 

The FAA approaches all of this work with humility, never taking safety for granted. This is what the public expects anywhere around the world, and it is the standard we—all of us—have set for ourselves. 

We, in the aerospace industry, must reach out to a new generation of people, many of whom have not been considered part of the aviation scene. This industry as a whole is evolving rapidly and, at the same time, at least in the U.S., we’re seeing a large number of retirements and fewer and fewer people choosing aerospace careers. That’s a problem. 

While COVID-19 seemed to give a small reprieve to the workforce crisis in some areas, as the industry rebounds, we cannot afford to take our eyes off the prize—building a sturdy pipeline of professionals ready and eager to join our ranks. 

You will see stories in the media highlighting the dire need for pilots and mechanics, but there are literally dozens of other types of positions that we must fill with qualified people to make the global aviation safe and efficient. Let me qualify my use of the word “qualified”—what I mean is that we need the best, brightest, and most diverse set of people from all walks of life in these positions.

Along with pilots, we need new engineers, dispatchers, air traffic controllers, maintenance technicians, mechanics, and drone operators. We also need cybersecurity specialists, data analysts, program managers, communication specialists....and many, many other skill sets. 

The ideal is an industry where any young person, regardless of gender, ethnicity, geography, or financial background, has a shot if they have the drive and motivation to work here. 

We do this, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because we must have a broad range of expert opinions at the table to make sure we haven’t missed anything when it comes to safety. The last thing we want in a safety organization is group think. For the U.S., this is more important than ever right now as the demographics of our aerospace industry over time have not changed appreciably. 

That’s why we created two Federal Advisory Committees to help figure out how to diversify our workforce—the Women in Aviation Advisory Board and the Youth Access to American Jobs in Aviation Task Force. Both groups are made up of very diverse and accomplished professionals in government and industry, and both are wrapping up their work right now. Next time we meet, I will have some concrete results to share. 

We are also helping to introduce young people to aerospace careers at their schools through our Adopt-a-School program that we plan to roll out across the U.S. over the next year.  

The FAA is also harnessing the power of social media to open our lens to a more diverse applicant pool when we hire new employees. 

Earlier this summer, we created an air traffic controller hiring program designed to encourage more women, minorities, and people from underrepresented communities to apply.

Along with traditional news and social media outlets, we pushed our messaging to non-traditional outlets that might get seen in the African American community—and it did. 

We saw about a 50% increase in applications, compared to a normal cycle, and a 200% increase in page views on our website. We even broke the internet, so to speak, when the campaign first kicked off – too many people were looking! 

This is a good start, and I look forward to learning more about what you are doing in the Latin American countries in these areas.

Finally, let’s talk about the topic that most people consider the heart of sustainability—the environment, and in particular, our impact on the climate.

Addressing the climate challenge has been a key priority for President Biden since Day One of his Administration, and he is eager to work with other governments and aviation authorities to increase efforts to address aviation’s impact on climate.

We’re committed to reducing the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions in a manner consistent with the goal of net-zero emissions for our economy by 2050, and we are eager to work with all of our international partners to do the same. 

While there are many technical solutions on horizon, sustainable aviation fuels will be a big part of the solution, at least in the near term. 

Right now, the U.S. is focused on developing and deploying sustainable aviation fuels and other clean technologies that meet rigorous international standards. 

With adequate scaling up, we believe sustainable aviation fuels—or SAFs—can address greenhouse gas emissions in a cost-effective manner. 

Recognizing the need for action, the White House, in September, set a new goal to scale up the U.S. production of sustainable aviation fuel to 3 billion gallons per year by 2030, enough to meet 10% of our aviation demand. That’s a leap. Right now, we’re producing less than 5 million gallons a year.  

These are ambitious goals, but they are potentially achievable if new policy measures are put into place...One example would be a “blenders tax credit” that will provide a per-gallon tax incentive for sustainable aviation fuel production.

At the FAA, we are researching multiple avenues for sustainability. We recently launched the third phase of our CLEEN Program, with $100 million in contracts over the next five years for aircraft and engine companies to develop and demonstrate technologies that reduce fuel use, emissions, and noise. 

We also recently awarded more than $20 million in grants to reduce emissions and improve air quality at airports. Included will be zero-emission airport vehicles and charging infrastructure, and electrification of ramp equipment at gates. 

Speaking of lower emissions at airports, a few weeks ago we rolled out a new software capability we developed with NASA that airlines will use at 27 hub airports in the U.S. to get from the gate to the runway without all the typical stops and starts that burn unnecessary fuel. 

These are just a few of the initiatives underway in the U.S., all of which are designed to put aviation on a path to environmental sustainability. From where I sit, the best solution is an investment in sustainable aviation fuels coupled with technology, infrastructure, and operational efficiency improvements. 

But I know that climate does not recognize borders, so our success or failure will depend on all countries coming together to solve to the problem. No country can solve this problem on its own, and no single technology can do it all. 

That’s the reason we support smart, global policies like CORSIA, and that’s why I want to work with my counterparts to identify global solutions in all areas—technology, operations, infrastructure, and SAF—that will enable us to work together collaboratively to achieve success globally.

That is also why we support the formation of an aviation climate ambition coalition that the United Kingdom will announce at the upcoming climate conference in Glasgow at the end of the month. This is an excellent opportunity for countries to come together to complement, support, and enable the work within ICAO to address international aviation’s climate impacts. 

We know that we will only succeed if we all work together, and that's why I encourage every State here to join the UK aviation ambition coalition.

In closing, let me repeat that there’s never been a more important time for us to come together as leaders to make aviation a sustainable asset for future generations.

From safety, to workforce to environment, I’ve seen industry and government stepping up, embracing technology and change, and being open minded about the way forward; I have to say that I’m optimistic for the future. 

Working together, I’m confident we can create an aviation system that will carry us into a safe, clean, efficient, and sustainable future. I want you to know that the FAA is here, as a partner, to help in any way we can to make all America—North, Central, South, and the Caribbean—the world leader in building this future. 

Adios—and thank you for listening.