Outgoing Administrator urges focus on funding

 - September 26, 2007, 10:10 AM

In her final speech before the Washington Aero Club last month, former FAA Administrator Marion Blakey chided the airlines for causing most of their own delay problems with flight schedules that “are at times out of line with reality.”

In her fifth appearance at the club she said, “Passengers are growing weary of schedules that aren’t worth the electrons they’re printed on. And if the airlines don’t address this voluntarily, don’t be surprised when the government steps in.” She added, “Drawing down the schedule at Chicago was not my happiest hour, but it could come to that on the East Coast as well.”

The FAA Administrator had some words for general aviation, too. “I also think that our business jet and GA partners need to take a step in the right direction–to be part of the solution,” Blakey said. “It’s time to face the fact that your practices need to change as well. Flying to and from wherever you want, whenever you want, is not a free utility. You need to expect to pay for it. The other users shouldn’t have to pay your freight and on your timetable.”

She told the group that the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) is critical to solving the capacity issue, but paying for it might be the biggest challenge of all.

With the FAA’s authorization and the taxes that support the Airport and Airway Trust Fund expiring on September 30, she said that failure to move forward on both is a tacit acceptance of gridlock. “Except this time, when the modernization programs lag behind, we’ll all know that it wasn’t mismanagement by the FAA that allowed it to happen,” she added.

Blakey, who will become president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association on November 12, warned that passing “status quo legislation” for a few years is much more risky than taking on the tough financing questions now and addressing the heart of the problem–the need for a stable, cost-based funding stream that allows for adequate, dependable investment in NextGen.

“Wait-and-see will not launch technology nor will it create a stable funding stream, a system that’s both cost-based and fair,” she said. “I’m urging you to help get this done.”

According to Blakey, the ADS-B contract awarded to ITT early last month put in place the commitment to acquire ground infrastructure. She said the notice of proposed rulemaking that lays out the standards and minimal requirements for equipage was to be released at the end of last month, which she called “no mean feat.

“But the challenges as I see it are clear and real,” she continued. “The FAA must be rock solid in its commitment to performance-based technology and procedures such as Rnav and RNP. It needs to stay the course on the Operational Evolution Partnership to save fuel and reduce delays. And it needs to be unwavering in its pursuit of NextGen arm-in-arm with the aviation community.”

Blakey also called on the airlines and all operators in the National Airspace System to embrace the change involved, urging them to be the first to equip to operate in the new system. “And the FAA needs to make sure that the benefits, the rewards, for doing so accrue quickly and early,” she said. “Aviation can no longer afford for the full-performance fleet to be the exception.”

Another challenge facing the FAA and Congress, she said, is the potential of operating the old system and NextGen at the same time. “When you’re paying two mortgages, one for the technology of the 1960s and another for NextGen–things like ADS-B, Swim [system-wide information management], DataCom and all the other programs that make up NextGen–there’s just not enough money to go around,” she cautioned. “We need to step smartly through the transition. And that includes the hard reality that with the advent of NextGen technology and procedures, there simply is no need for the number of facilities we have in place today.”