A Congressional field hearing today in Daytona Beach focused on the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) new Florida Test Bed facility for developing NextGen air traffic control technologies. The hearing, which preceded today's opening of the Test Bed, highlighted the partnership between the FAA, the private sector and academia in developing state of the art technologies for modernizing the nation's air traffic control system.
"The Florida Test Bed is an example of how the federal government can harness private sector and academic resources in partnership to help modernize our air traffic control system and improve the safety and efficiency of U.S. aviation," said U.S. Rep. John L. Mica (R-FL), Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which conducted today's hearing. "With the development of Next Generation air traffic control technology, software and systems in this area, we have the potential for one of the most significant high paying job opportunities since the start of the space program."
Mica continued, "While NextGen has faced challenges, being able to leverage private sector and academic expertise and resources has been a positive step for the NextGen program. The next important step in moving NextGen forward is for Congress to pass a long overdue FAA bill. We have had four and a half years of delay and short-term extensions of the previous FAA law. This patchwork series of 22 short-term FAA extensions is no way for Congress to authorize our nation's aviation system and programs.
"We have had too many aviation near misses, both on the ground and in the air," Mica added. "The nation needs the safest, most efficient aviation system possible. It is time to complete an FAA bill, which will set critically needed milestones and metrics for the development of NextGen."
"NextGen is a massive, complicated program, and we have to do it right," said U.S. Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI), Chairman of the Aviation Subcommittee. "The Florida Test Bed is an example of a public-private partnership that will bring together government, the private sector and academia to move NextGen forward by testing and developing NextGen technologies. We need to draw on the expertise and experience of a wide range of interests if NextGen is to succeed. This is the type of collaborative effort we need to ensure that NextGen progresses so that we can enjoy the many benefits it will provide in terms of safety, the environment and greater efficiencies. I am pleased to be here in Florida with Chairman Mica on this important day for the Florida Test Bed."
FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University President Dr. John P. Johnson, the Government Accountability Office and aviation industry representatives testified at today's hearing.
The state of the art Florida Test Bed, which also opened today, was established through a partnership between FAA, Embry-Riddle, and Daytona Beach International Airport. The Test Bed allows the federal government to take advantage of the University and private sector expertise in developing and testing NextGen technologies.
The NextGen plan consists of new concepts and capabilities for air traffic management and communications, navigations, and surveillance that involves: transitioning from a ground-based radar system to a more automated, aircraft-centered, satellite-based surveillance system; developing more direct and efficient routes through the airspace; improving aviation weather systems; developing data communications capabilities between aircraft and the ground to reduce controller and pilot workload per aircraft; and creating shared and distributed information technology architectures.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has reported on the importance of collaboration with industry and NextGen partner agencies for the efficient delivery of NextGen benefits. The GAO has cited FAA's assertions that private sector involvement in the research efforts for NextGen has the potential to save a significant amount of time and funding necessary to deliver NextGen benefits.
According to the FAA, the initial success of NextGen integrated testing at Daytona Beach International Airport as well as a continuing need for proof of concept demonstrations prompted the FAA to ensure long-term sustainability for the Test Bed, beginning in fiscal year 2009.