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Wed, Jul 11, 2007

FAA's Blakey Announces Expansion Of OEP In Senate Presentation

Calls For 'Action Now' On FAA Funding Plans

Editor's Note: Below is the complete text of a speech given by FAA Administrator Marion Blakey during Wednesday's "Senate JPDO" day. In her speech, Ms. Blakey announced an expansion of the agency's original Operational Evolution Plan -- now Partnership -- to include the FAA's proposed NextGen changes to the nation's air traffic control system.

Ms. Blakey also names Charlie Bergman as Executive Director for the interagency Joint Planning and Development Office, and notes he will "he’ll have Jim [May] and Phil [Boyer] on speed dial" to gather input from the Air Transport Association and Aircraft Owners and Pilot's Association, respectively, on implementing NextGen.

Finally, Ms. Blakey also repeats her earlier statements that without NextGen -- and the funding for it -- the nation's ATC system is bound for gridlock. "If we’re unable to have a financing reform bill in place by September 30 when the current set of taxes expire, the delays and the missed connections and the headlines are only going to get worse -- much worse," Blakey notes ominously.

Good morning, and thank you for coming. I think there’s little doubt that aviation is indeed at a critical juncture. It’s stretched to the max. We all know that our technology needs to be upgraded. And we all agree that the Next Generation Air Transportation System, NextGen, is the way to go.

We’ve spent the last couple years standing up the JPDO, our interagency Joint Planning and Development Office, and developing the vision for our NextGen system. Many of you have seen the documents that were released over the last few weeks — the Concept of Operations and Enterprise Architecture.

We now are moving into the implementation phase of this complex project. All the participating agencies, especially FAA, need to put the resources and structure in place to deliver on our piece of the NextGen system.

And that’s precisely the direction we’re headed in. At the FAA, there’s nothing more important than NextGen, whether it’s reforming our financing structure, moving forward on major programs like ADS-B or demonstrating ways to create a safer, cleanersystem the NextGen ensures. The only question — how are we going to make all this happen in a coordinated, integrated way?

Today, I’m announcing some significant changes inside the FAA to meet the needs of NextGen. You all know the old Operational Evolution Plan, the OEP. It’s been the key to achieving capacity and efficiency gains, like the commissioning of 13 new runways since fiscal 2000. So, building on this success, we have expanded the OEP and renamed it to become the Operational Evolution Partnership so that it can include the entire NextGen effort at the FAA.

That’s not all. With the expansion of the OEP, and the challenges that will present, we recognize the need to strengthen the OEP. Strong leadership will be key, so we’re creating a new senior executive position to lead this Partnership and that executive will report directly to the chief operating officer of our Air Traffic Organization. The OEP executive will be responsible for driving the implementation of NextGen at the FAA, ensuring that things are fully integrated. The search for that key executive begins today, so I welcome your suggestions.

But we’re not standing still as we search to find the right person for this position. We already have Version 1 of the expanded OEP up on our website and we have here today copies of its Executive Overview. OEP is off and running, now we just need to find the right person to help all of us — including industry — deliver on it.

It’s going to take all of us pulling in the same direction to make this all work. I’m glad that the JPDO Institute has just announced its new Executive Director. I’d like to welcome Charlie Bergman. He has a lifelong career in aviation since graduating from the United States Air Force Academy. Charlie has worked at the Pentagon, the Air Line Pilots Association and has 4,200 hours in the cockpit. He knows the system.

In his new position, he’s going to team up with Charlie Leader to ensure a robust private sector input into all that the JPDO does. And, he’ll have Jim [May] and Phil [Boyer] on speed dial because they’ll be involved in every aspect of this endeavor as well.

I know his hiring is yet another clear signal that we’re taking the implementation of NextGen very, very seriously. And, I suppose that in a broad manner of speaking, today’s gathering is designed to make sure everyone here has the latest information and tools to understand the complexity and the timing of the NextGen issue. Why we’re doing what we’re doing, and what needs to happen to make it happen.

Too often, people think that if we ignore the bumps in our aviation system, that they’ll somehow just go away. The system recovered from 9/11 and now passenger numbers are setting records. Look at the airlines. We’re no longer talking about bankruptcy, we’re talking about being in the black.

But there is no rebound or a recovery available for the system today. Make no mistake, this is a steady slide toward gridlock. Last summer’s delays are going to be like the good old days when the dog days roll in for 2007. But still, when you’re talking about a system of the future, well, it’s easy to think that you can take care of it tomorrow.

If we wait for tomorrow, we’re toast. You can call it critical mass. You can call it gridlock. But whatever you call it, we all know that the problem is upon us. This is not a situation that’s going to happen in 2025. It’s here. It’s now.

NextGen will do more than answer the mail. NextGen will enable us to meet not just capacity needs that will come our way, but it will enhance safety as well and provide a much greener, environmentally friendly system to boot.

In closing, though, please keep in mind that the problem I mentioned a moment ago is really only half the challenge. We know what we need and how to fix it. The next question is how do we pay for it? We’ve put forward a comprehensive proposal to fund NextGen and are working with Congress to get new legislation enacted. If we’re unable to have a financing reform bill in place by September 30 when the current set of taxes expire, the delays and the missed connections and the headlines are only going to get worse -- much worse. Without a reliable funding stream, the NextGen program will start to slow down, and when the bow wave of delays hits, it’ll be too late.

If you walk away from today with only one thought, let it be this:  There are 81 days until September 30. Let’s get it done.

FMI: www.faa.gov

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