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Thu, Feb 22, 2007

FAA's Blakey Ties In User Fees To 'Global Harmonization' In Speech

Says "Everyone Loses" If GA Doesn't Start Paying New Taxes

Editor's Note: The first two-thirds of FAA Administrator Marion Blakey's speech before the Royal Aeronautical Society in London Wednesday detailed the agency's efforts to advance the technologies and capabilities of air traffic control services in such markets as China and India... but the final third focuses on an issue Blakey likens to "bit of a stick fight" -- user fees for general aviation pilots in the US.

The unedited transcript of the Administrator's speech is presented below.

Thank you, Stuart [Matthews]. You know, I’ve got to admit something right up front. A few weeks ago, I was quite certain that tonight I’d be talking to you only about the FAA’s efforts toward global harmonization. After all, the Royal Aeronautical Society stands for harmonization, and much more.

As the oldest society in the world devoted to aviation, there’s little doubt that spreading the net of safety is of keen interest to you. Global harmonization is a big deal, and as well it should be. One thing we all know to be true -- safety is the open source code of success. And it’s especially true in aviation. In a nutshell, the FAA is hard at it when it comes to making sure that the net of aviation safety has room enough to spread to each of the four corners of the globe.

Worldwide, aviation is a $3 trillion business -- 29 million jobs. The reach and grasp of aviation are formidable. Safety needs to match it.

I'll start with China. Pick up any forecasting literature and you will see that within years, China will have an aviation system, an air traffic control system, that is second in the world -- second only to the United States of America. The Sleeping Giant is asleep no longer, and its desire for a state-of-the-art system is gathering steam. For those of you who caught the New York Times article on February 8, the headline read: "Business Jets Taxiing Toward Take-Off in Asia." Executives are saying, according to the article, that there's a lack of existing infrastructure in Asia, in terms of airports, and a complex web of airspace restrictions. They're also saying something else: Airline travel is growing at about 8 percent per year in China, so business travel is going to be in the same league. China is already hard at work building their own regional jet -- and we are right there with them.

We're doing everything we can to make sure that whether it's a biz jet or a wide-body, that aviation in China takes a step up, that they'll be ready for the activity as it comes along. We've been working closely with China and the regional ICAO representative on the safety enhancements developed by the Commercial Aviation Safety Team, CAST. China has agreed to implement 27 of the safety enhancements. These include installation of Terrain Awareness Warning Systems by all of China's airlines. Training improvements, Standard Operating Procedures, standard checklists and other best practices are also being implemented. The Chinese are waiting for CAST to develop additional safety enhancements so they can continue to reduce the risk of accidents in their operations. That's what I mean when I say we're working with China to help it step up to the highest level of safety.

And we're not just focusing on the workings behind the Great Wall. In concert with more than two dozen US companies like Boeing, the majors, Lockheed-Martin, we've launched an Aviation Cooperation Program with them that provides an inside look at our system. This program is a US industry/public partnership with the Chinese government to foster closer ties and transfer best practices with the goal of increasing interoperability and safety. And while we're showing the Chinese our operations, on the commercial side, we're also looking to eliminate inefficient and duplicative practices. From a practical standpoint, the US industry should have the opportunity to showcase the latest technology and services available. This is being done through a unified voice to China in the aviation sector through the coordination of technical assistance and training requirements. Under this program, they get to see first hand our facilities in Seattle, in Atlantic City, here in D.C. and elsewhere to see how we keep things up in the air and keep them smooth.

In the near term, we're also working with China to help them understand the benefits of emerging technologies and procedures such as ADS-B and RVSM. ADS-B is tailor made for an environment that's challenging -- lots of aircraft, tough terrain, infrastructure issues. We've already seen positive results in the Alaska research project. If you were going to make a list of the places that ADS-B is designed to serve, China would be at or near the top.

We're also hard at it in India, another country that's rapidly becoming an aviation hot spot. While the United States and Western Europe remain the largest markets, India and China are the fastest growing. Airbus says traffic flow in domestic China is going to grow at an 8.2 percent clip over the next 20 years. In India, it's 12.3. Domestic aviation there has been growing at double-digit rates for several years. Boeing projects that India will buy more than 850 large commercial transport aircraft over the next 20 years. That's $72 billion worth of airplane.

Those are the kind of numbers you can't ignore, especially when you're spreading the net of safety. Trust me, we aren't.

As a matter of fact, we look to build upon our experience in China by developing an Aviation Cooperation Program in India. The US India ACP could start very shortly now that the long-awaited agreement has been approved by the India Cabinet and is ready for signature. We are counting on a long term relationship with India to work with them to grow their aviation system. We have an exciting opportunity just a few months from now -- the first US India Aviation Summit. Three days reserved for the sole purpose of discussing best practices, of seeing technology demonstrations, and listening to leaders in global aviation -- who can't help but think about the possibilities?

We're working with India on performance-based navigation. India believes that implementing performance-based navigation will have a significant impact on their air traffic management. We agree. In September 2006, we provided a daylong overview presentation to them on PBN. A second two-day PBN strategy assessment meeting will be held in April. New Delhi has been proposed as one of the first locations for the new ICAO-FAA-EUROCONTROL joint three-day PBN familiarization seminar, in September of 2007. This seminar will focus on the revised ICAO Manual on PBN, which is due this Spring. India, for its part, has asked MITRE for a proposal on providing specific assistance to implement performance-based navigation.

They've also asked us to give their controller workforce some advanced training on congested airspace. I've got to admit, we have more experience with that than I'd care to. And the flip side of handling congestion, maintaining the equipment that lets you do it, is another area they're asking for help in. We're planning an orientation visit for their air traffic managers as a next step. The timing couldn't be better.

We're also working with our Indian counterparts on GAGAN, their GPS based satellite navigation augmentation system. When Raytheon was awarded the contract to develop the land-based portion of GAGAN, we agreed to assist India with its certification of the system. Now that GAGAN is in its demonstration and validation phase, we've offered assistance with the certification, which we've done for Japan as well.

I also expect movement on negotiating a bilateral aviation safety agreement with India, which would allow us to accept Indian airworthiness certification on some aviation and aerospace products. We've signed a letter of intent stating that the FAA and the Indians are going to begin discussions on a bilateral. In fact, those discussions will begin next month. That, from where I stand, is a very, very good sign.

As you can imagine, one of the biggest pushes for us overall is the drive toward harmonization in Europe with our Next Generation Air Transportation System. Our system, our skies clearly are at the saturation point. As technology continues to jump, it's only going to get busier. We need to transform our airspace and we are. But getting Europe on the same page is just as important.

If NextGen and SESAR aren't compatible, if they're not on the same page, we've taken a step forward technologically, but taken a step back strategically. Aviation is a global business and as such, it requires seamless interoperability. Anything less is unacceptable. The Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research program has to be big enough to include NextGen and vice versa. We're looking to make that happen.

The FAA signed an agreement with the European Commission to formalize the collaboration and cooperation between the two systems. The first US/European Technical Interchange meeting on SESAR and NextGen took place here in D.C. just before Christmas. The next one was held just a few weeks ago, and I hope that later this year we will be able to announce some joint projects. I think that these projects can also help to answer some of the questions that are plaguing our industry today and to show how the newest generation of technology, aircraft, and procedures help to reduce noise and other environmental concerns.

But now, as I alluded to before, I'd like to turn to another burning issue -- financing reform.

For those of you who've been reading the papers -- and this is one group that is up to speed -- I can tell you that I feel good that the legislation's finally out there.

Now look, there's a bit of a stick fight that's resulted, but that doesn't mean that's where we'll end up. Getting the legislation together in the first place was no mean feat. We met with stakeholders and Wall Street and John Q. public for almost two years.

And now that the legislation's out there, the same old arguments are surfacing. General aviation is still afraid of user fees -- for anyone -- even though they will still be paying the same old way, the fuel tax. The people who have never paid a user fee still don't want to. The users that have been paying more than their fair share feel that the legislation doesn't go far enough. "A good first step" is what the headlines said.

Let me be absolutely clear about this one: Achieving major change is the only step. If the opportunity to enact this legislation comes and goes on September 30th because we were arguing about who picks up the tab, everyone loses. If you think that a user fee is troublesome, try an air traffic system that's totally gridlocked. When that happens, the argument about who flies most or who pays what isn't going to matter.

If you think that the first step is all this represents -- that we have time to burn, that our current system works just fine -- watch what happens when the taxes expire and the trust fund dwindles.

Fact is, we need to transform our air transportation system. We need to deploy technology and procedures that can handle a billion passengers by 2015. We need to be able to handle micro-jets and UAVs and the occasional jaunt into commercial space. Those tickets go for 200 grand, and people are lining up.

If you think that the system we've got can handle that kind of activity, you are mistaken.

It can't, but fortunately, we know what can, and that is NextGen. The good news is that the plan for NextGen is in place. The foundation for NextGen is up and running. The bad news is that with the current revenue structure, America may never make it to NextGen.

You know it and I know it that the FAA's revenue stream has nothing to do with the workload. If there's a business out there that operates this way, and stays in business, I haven't seen it.

In the past, the FAA has been rightly criticized for not operating like a business. Well, now we are. Ninety-seven percent of our major capital programs are on time and under budget. We're upgrading the flight service stations and saving billions. We are indeed operating like a business.

So with all of that said, I'm telling you here and now that the taxpayer no longer wants to be the deep pocket. Commercial airline passengers are in the most heavily taxed seat in all of aviation. John Q. also foots the bill for a number of administrative costs. Our proposal moves to put fees in place for several services that had been largely gratis, such as a special registration number. The man in the street expects to pay for a personalized license plate for the car. It's about time for aviation as well.

If you're wondering where all this is headed, it's here: we have been presented with an historic opportunity to alter the future of aviation by creating a Next Generation system that truly delivers. We owe it to the traveling public. We owe it to America. Our economy hinges on aviation, and we can ill-afford to blow this chance to give our citizens a system that can handle what the future may bring -- will bring. Let's make it happen.

FMI: www.faa.gov


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