FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt has been in the hustings recently pumping NextGen and long-term FAA reauthorization. In several instances, he has broached the two topics in the same speeches.
Speaking at Metropolitan Oakland (Calif.) International Airport (OAK) just days before Congress passed the 22nd short-term extension of FAA funding and programs, Babbitt said the partial shutdown of his agency in late July stopped improvements to airport towers, runways and taxiways across the country. “When Congress failed to give us the authority to spend money this summer, it brought our modernization efforts to a halt,” he said. “Here in Oakland, the contractor is telling us that stopping construction of the tower cost about $6,000 each day in rental expenses for scaffolding, trailers and other worksite equipment.”
According to Babbitt, the contractor in Las Vegas has submitted a claim for $360,000 extra because of the furlough, while in Traverse City, Mich., the FAA has been told it will have to pay at least $75,000 more for the control tower because the contractor had to remove a crane during the furlough and then haul it back.
“Parceling out money to the FAA in short-term increments makes it very difficult to plan for the long-term improvements we need,” he declared.
Several days later found Babbitt in Hartford, Conn., at the AOPA Aviation Summit, where he told attendees that ATC already is using ADS-B to improve surveillance and separation in areas that radar can’t reach, such as the Gulf of Mexico. That’s why the FAA is requiring ADS-B Out by 2020 to operate in certain kinds of airspace.
“We elected to put ADS-B into the Gulf for a good reason,” he told me in a recent interview. “It’s a huge return; [operators] move 10,000 people a day in and out of those rigs in the Gulf. It’s phenomenal: the number of people we move every single day out there and the amount of traffic out there that is so much safer.”
But he said that ADS-B In can also benefit pilots who are not flying IFR. “You don’t have to be on an IFR flight plan to benefit from traffic information and weather information,” Babbitt told the AOPA Summit attendees. “You don’t have to be on an IFR flight plan to benefit from VFR flight following in places with little or no radar coverage.”
But Pratt & Whitney Canada president Dave Hess thinks most Americans don’t even know what NextGen is. “We tend to focus on roads, rail and ports when we talk about transportation infrastructure,” he wrote in an op-ed in the Hartford Courant, a few days after the AOPA gathering. “Yet, in a world increasingly dependent on international commerce and coast-to-coast travel, speedy, reliable air transportation is just as important.”
Babbitt believes a business case can be made for NextGen to the aircraft owners and operators, including the airlines. Now if he can just find a way to sell it to the folks sitting in the back of the airplane–and pay for it.