FAA Reauthorization and Modernization

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Bolen, Babbitt Discuss NextGen Technologies in Chamber's Aviation Summit

Watch the full recorded session on C-SPAN.

April 27, 2011

At a high-profile policy discussion held at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters today, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief Randy Babbitt highlighted the important role of private-sector entrepreneurship and innovations in bolstering the nation's aviation system.

Babbitt shared his thoughts in a one-on-one interview session with Bolen, held before a room full of aviation policy leaders at the Chamber's annual Aviation Summit.

"Businesses and entrepreneurs are America's economic engine, and at the FAA, the last thing we want to be is a choke-point between their innovation and technology," Babbitt said. He clicked off a litany of technological and procedural initiatives developed by private-sector companies, and in use in aviation today, that cut carbon emissions, enhance safety and improve the efficiency of aviation system use.

Babbitt added that the FAA's plan for completing the transformation to a Next Generation ("NextGen") aviation system - which emphasizes satellite instead of ground-based navigation aids - recognizes the importance of investing in technology, and the potential for the government to realize a long-term return on its initial investments in NextGen technologies.

"There's so much to be gained to completing the shift in navigation that will come with NextGen - so much potential, on so many levels," he said. "The question we should be asking is not what will it cost to do this, but what will it cost *not* to do this? If this was a business meeting for a board of directors, and I brought you a proposal that said we'll invest $8 billion up front, but when the project is complete, we'll save $4 billion each year going forward, there would be approval for that proposal."

Babbitt maintained that one key ingredient in the success of the FAA's work on NextGen transformation is final Congressional approval of a reauthorization package for the agency. "By having reauthorization we'll be able to move forward on our aviation infrastructure, and also create new jobs and spur economic growth," he said.

As Babbitt's interviewer for the session, Bolen noted that some skeptics pointed to past FAA modernization projects when contending that the agency simply was not equipped to manage such initiatives. "Are you comfortable that the FAA has the right people, training, expertise and organizational structure to tackle the transformation?" Bolen queried Babbitt.

"Yes, we have the talent, the people," Babbitt replied. "We're always looking at our [organizational] structure, but that said, this isn't the FAA of the 1950's. We take input from the industry...We have aspirational goals and we're nimble, so that as technology adapts, you can make adjustments and keep moving forward. I'm very comfortable that we're on schedule and we have support from industry to make this [the transformation to NextGen] happen."

As a follow-on question, Bolen asked: "Do you have enough participation from the stakeholders, and... buy-in from the [aviation] community?"

"More than 300 people in every walk of the industry have helped us put together our NextGen preparation plan, and I applaud those who've helped us develop that roadmap," Babbitt replied. He pointed specifically to a NextGen advisory board, comprised of industry and government figures, which has given direct input to the agency about the costs, benefits and other considerations related to the FAA's modernization plans.

Bolen concluded the session by commending Babbitt's commitment to collaboration among all industry segments on NextGen efforts. "I think for a lot of policy people, as you look at our aviation system today, we know it's the largest, safest, most diverse and efficient system in the world," Bolen said. "It might be easy to say you're going to look at this environment and rest on your laurels, but it seems to me that there's a personal urgency on your part to make NextGen a reality."

Watch the full recorded session on C-SPAN.