Charlotte, N.C. Mayor Anthony Foxx discussed several important national transportation issues and projects during his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday, including Sen. John Rockefeller IV's (D-W.Va.) desire to increase funding for FAA's modernization of the nation's air transportation system, also known as NextGen.
President Barack Obama nominated Foxx in April to replace outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The Senate is expected to confirm Foxx, who expressed his support for NextGen several times throughout his testimony Thursday.
Rockefeller presented the funding challenges of NextGen to Foxx during the confirmation hearing.
"NextGen, is just desperately important to me, because without it, our airways will just be clogged," said Rockefeller. "The FAA doesn't have the money to build NextGen, if we don't build NextGen, we're not going to have the money to do almost anything. People won't be able to travel efficiently. When you think of NextGen, does it excite you, is it something that you want to see get going? How in heaven's name do we come up with a way to fund it?"
FAA has targeted 2025 as its goal for completely modernizing the nation's air traffic control system, from radar to a satellite-based system. One of the biggest challenges is getting commercial and private aviation operators to spend billions of dollars to equip their aircraft with the new systems and technologies required to realize the benefits of NextGen.
Airlines have been reluctant to equip due to the agency's model of implementing NextGen in phases.
Last week, during a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Aviation, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta discussed how the sequestration budget cuts and overall budget uncertainty has the potential to further slow down the implementation of NextGen.
Rockefeller also referenced the impact sequestration has had on the agency's ability to implement NextGen.
On Thursday, Foxx acknowledged the challenges he would face if confirmed as the nation's 17th transportation secretary, and also urged more government-industry collaboration to bring about more real-world benefits from NextGen.
"NextGen is an area in which there is broad support, including mine by the way, to help not only get it built on schedule, and built out on schedule, but perhaps to even accelerate it," said Foxx. "I think one of the things that we have an opportunity to do is to engage the stakeholders, the folks that stand to benefit the most from NextGen, in a conversation about how we actually get there."