John Engler's Oral Testimony at House Transportation Hearing | Business Roundtable


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Oral Testimony
John Engler
House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
FAA Reauthorization: Issues in Modernizing and Operating the Nation’s Airspace
November 18, 2014

Good morning, Chairman Shuster, Ranking Member Rahall.  Thank you for the opportunity to testify on aviation and air traffic control as Congress begins work on reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration.

I’m pleased to speak on behalf of Business Roundtable and its more than 200 CEOs of leading U.S. companies. 

From Kitty Hawk to the end of the 20th century, the United States was considered the world’s leader in aviation.

Today, our U.S. air traffic system remains the world’s largest and safest. But sadly, it is no longer the most technologically advanced, and it may no longer be the world’s most cost-effective. 

The Roundtable recently conducted an analysis that applied Canadian rates for air traffic control services to U.S. flight data. Preliminary results suggest that, in aggregate, the Canadians are delivering services at a lower cost than the FAA.

At a minimum, the next FAA authorization should seek to reaffirm … and regain … U.S. aviation leadership by fostering a more modern, efficient system, starting with Air Traffic Control.

Such a modernized system would produce significant benefits for all air travelers, including the huge numbers who are traveling on business.

Advanced technologies and procedures will enable more planes to land and take off safely on existing runways, reducing delays.

More direct routes also equal shorter flights and more efficient operations – with notable savings in staffing and fuel. Emissions and noise pollution would fall.

With a modernized system, overseas sale of technologies developed and deployed in the United States would expand, reasserting U.S. aviation leadership.

Like many other stakeholders, business leaders are concerned about the slow and uncertain pace of the modernization effort represented by FAA’s NextGen program.

Numerous official reports document cost overruns and delayed implementation of new systems, leading stakeholders to question whether we have the best model – not just for delivering NextGen but also for the ongoing management and modernization of what used to be the world’s most advanced air traffic control system.

A few years ago, I convened experts who identified challenges to aviation.

They found the problems start with funding: Unpredictable, unreliable and often inadequate funding streams are doing damage to long-term planning and investment.
Last year’s sequestration – with its furloughs of controllers and the near-shutdown of 149 contract towers – is only the worst example.

The second underlying problem: Governance. The Air Traffic Organization answers to way too many disparate interests, agencies and administrators.

The third underlying problem is organizational culture. The culture needs to embrace innovation, so modernization occurs continuously as technology advances.

For an example of culture of innovation that works, look at AT&T. In the years we’ve been talking about NextGen, AT&T has gone through at least two generations of cellular technology, from powering a basic flip phone to 4G streaming video in today’s modern iPhone.

The last two decades have seen other countries restructure the way air traffic control is funded and governed. Australia, Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom have been early movers.

These governments determined that air traffic control is a high-tech service business that can be funded directly by aviation users, in effect, the customers.

More than 50 countries have separated their air traffic control systems from their transport ministries, leading to arm’s-length regulation of air safety.

In the U.S., the FAA’s own Management Advisory Council recently studied the same issues. Their final report in January 2014 made three unanimous recommendations:

  • First, remove all air traffic control funding from the federal budget, so that aviation users would pay directly for air traffic control services, and allow that revenue stream to be bonded.
  • Second, create a governing board of aviation stakeholders—not just to advise on technology decisions but to actually set the priorities for management and modernization. 
  • Third, separate the operation of the air traffic control system from the FAA safety regulator. This will establish independent, arm’s-length safety regulation, the kind that currently applies to all the other actors in U.S. aviation.

These three unanimous recommendations from experts – like Paul Rinaldi, who will be testifying today – are an excellent starting point for FAA reauthorization.

Finally, it is important that the financial and business model for any new structure be sound, fully discussed and broadly supported.

Next year’s FAA reauthorization offers a critically important opportunity to advance NextGen, to restore our aviation, and to put management of the national airspace on a path to continuous modernization.
Business Roundtable looks forward to working with you to achieve these important goals.

Mr. Chairman, I have a more complete statement for submission to the oral testimony. Thank you.