FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told a Congressional panel on Thursday that the agency is poised to meet 80 percent of the deliverables required on the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act.
Huerta updated the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation on the agency's implementation of the airspace modernization, safety improvements and government-industry collaboration required by the act. The act was the agency's first permanent budget-policy authorization in five years.
"Re-authorization required over 200 separate deliverables, nearly half of which were due within the first year of enactment. FAA is on track to meet or has met approximately 80 percent of those action items required to date in the law. We have currently completed about half of the deliverables in the law," Huerta told the committee Thursday, adding "as I'm sure you can appreciate, all action items are not created equal."
Thursday marked Huerta's second hearing of the year updating the House Aviation committee on his agency's implementation of the Reform act. This amid a year where he was confirmed administrator of an agency forced to oversee the sequestration spending cuts while awaiting the nomination and confirmation of a new Transportation Secretary.
In 2012, with the implementation of the Reform Act, lawmakers seemed to finally be giving FAA a steady foundation upon which to modernize the nation's air transportation system. But less than a year later, $85 billion in across-the-board government spending cuts were enacted, reducing the agency's budget by $637 million.
Aviation Committee Chairman Frank Lobiondo acknowledged "challenges" faced by FAA in implementing the goals of the 2012 Reform Act, which include implementing programs, research initiatives and government-industry institutional establishments for changing the radar based air traffic system to a digital satellite-based system, integrating unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the National Airspace System (NAS) and more. However, Lobiondo is still pushing for more rapid implementation of the act.
"The FAA has yet to complete some of the most important and challenging requirements of the law, including the unmanned aircraft systems integration plan to allow for the safe integration of UAS's by 2015, the small UAS rulemaking, the facility realignment and consolidation plan, and reforming and streamlining certification processes," said Lobiondo, adding the committee's desire to know "when we can expect to see more progress by the FAA."
Huerta addressed Lobiondo's comments during his testimony, saying the agency is currently in the process of implementing reforms suggested by the government-industry Aviation Rulemaking Committee to streamline the process for certifying new systems, components and technologies for airframes. FAA is currently in the process of preparing a report for Congress regarding the ARC's recommendations for improving the consistency of regulatory interpretations that impact all aspects of the aviation industry.
Both Lobiondo and Huerta made key comments focusing on unmanned aircraft, an industry that FAA is currently studying with plans to establish six testing sites throughout the country to asses how UAS interact with and act in civilian airspace.
FAA and lawmakers both want to achieve all of the revolutionary goals of the 2012 act, though it will not be easy if budgetary uncertainty remains, as Huerta put it.
"Even without furloughs, funding restrictions are preventing us from hiring and training our next generation workforce and are forcing us to rely on employee attrition to meet required deficit targets. Identifying and implementing processes that help us to do more with less is always a valuable exercise, but our ability to meet the long-term goals of reauthorization will be in jeopardy," Huerta said, concluding his testimony at the hearing.
The aviation subcommittee has scheduled its second NextGen listening session of the year for next week, where Lobiondo said lawmakers will interact with FAA and industry stakeholders "in a less formal setting," helping to achieve "real world" benefits from NextGen, the central budget-policy provision from the 2012 law.