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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Perspectives: Cooperation

Following are excerpts of the keynote address by FAA Administrator J. Randolph Babbitt at the 2010 RTCA Spring Symposium, “Bringing NextGen Into Focus,” which was co-produced by Avionics Magazine, April 6 in Washington, D.C.

Right out of the gate, I’ve got to tell you that “Bringing NextGen into Focus” is a good idea. But when you think about it, this is a discussion we should not need to be having.

We’re hearing “what is NextGen?” way too much, and maybe that’s because we haven’t done as good a job as we should’ve when it comes to answering that question. NextGen is a technological and procedural leap, an upgrade of exponential proportions.

And to be clear here, NextGen isn’t limited to infrastructure. This is about the environment, our airports, procedures, airspace, training and technology. This is about integrating airspace with airport plans, using things like RNAV/RNP. NextGen really will change the way we fly, and it’s designed to deliver benefits now.

Since we haven’t explained NextGen as well as we should have, it’s not surprising that the next question falls right in step:  Why do we need NextGen?  Because right now, we’ve got a National Airspace System that hasn’t advanced as far as it should have, as far as it needs to. We’ve had upgrades — some big, some small — but we’re still dealing with a concept that’s largely rooted in the 1950s.

We can’t afford not to move forward with NextGen. Go to Kennedy (Airport) on a rainy day — on a sunny day — and ask passengers there if they think that the aviation system could use an upgrade. … NextGen gets us to the efficient use of the runways, avionics and procedures that we have in the system today and the scalability to grow into tomorrow.

I think it’s important that we recognize that we do have consensus, and it came courtesy of RTCA’s Task Force 5. … RTCA has collectively given the FAA insight into the priorities that we need to set, from implementing closely spaced parallel operations at critical airports to integrated air-traffic management. They’ve shown us where to get the best bang for our collective buck, such as the need for data sharing and situational awareness among users, so that we can actively manage operations and congestion on the surface.

The lesson we learned from RTCA is that we now have a readily established conduit that makes sure we’re headed in the right direction, a direction that meets the needs of government, the industry and the passenger. … This process has also helped us not only to understand but also to align the divergent interests of the stakeholders. … The fact that such divergent groups gave us consensus recommendations speaks to the value we all place on NextGen’s success.

We will build trust together as new procedures are implemented and benefits accrue. Let me point to RNP/RNAV as an example. They have the demonstrated potential to increase the efficiency of traffic to and from airports and on the surface. [This] will set the stage for ADS-B and other NextGen technologies, which will be less risky and more likely to be embraced by users.

We heard that we need to commit to delivering capabilities on a set schedule and at specific locations. That’s only going to happen if we continue to work together and build on the consensus we have to determine the most effective order in which to implement new capabilities.

We do have a history of being able to work collaboratively to deliver new capabilities. Look at our collective success in building new runways over the last decade at 18 of the nation’s 35 busiest airports, with more projects in the works. We can apply the same focus that we’ve used to successfully grow runway capacity to the rollout of NextGen.

I want you to know that I’ve gone out of my way from my first day as Administrator to get the agency to understand that we cannot deliver effective and professional service if we continue to live in stovepipes. Partnership is an integral component of FAA’s strategy for NextGen.

We all need to be well aware that this will take a major change in the culture at the FAA and in the relationship between FAA and industry, and on the part of the industry to stay engaged. … We need to do our parts together. I’m committing to do mine. And I’m counting on yours as we achieve success together.

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