Committee leaders today highlighted the importance of the nation's air traffic control modernization efforts for U.S. jobs and the economy, and called on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to implement delayed NextGen reforms included in this year's FAA bill.
The Aviation Subcommittee hearing today received testimony from government and aviation industry stakeholders on the FAA's management of and progress towards transforming our national air traffic control system. This program, known as NextGen, is among the largest and most ambitious public works projects in the nation's history.
The FAA Modernization and Reform Act, signed into law in February, includes provisions to increase the agency's accountability and help ensure the NextGen program stays on track. The lawstrengthens FAA positions of leadership for the program, and requires the agency to establish and track system performance metrics. The FAA has already missed a deadline to report to Congress on the establishment of metrics, and it has not taken action on the provisions relative to the program's leadership, including selecting a permanentChief NextGen Officer.
The DOT Inspector General (IG) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) also continue to express concerns about delays and challenges with the program. The IG and GAO both testified at today's hearing.
"The two previous Democratic Congresses and the Administration failed to provide the leadership necessary to complete a long-term FAA bill for four long years," said U.S. Rep. John L. Mica (R-FL), Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman. "After these delays, the FAA reform and reauthorization passed by this Congress is now law, funding and policy are in place, and we have a blueprint to help ensure this critical NextGen program moves forward and costs are kept under control.
"However, many are concerned, including some testifying here today, about the lack of leadership and progress at the FAA in implementingNextGen and meeting the requirements of the FAA Reform Act," Mica said. "We cannot afford to let the agency get in the way of success, and this Committee will hold FAA's feet to the fire to make sure they implement the provisions in the law and move forward. The development of NextGen is an international contest that will determine the world's leader in aviation technology. This is important for jobs, economic opportunity, and the future of the industry in the United States."
"The successful implementation of NextGen is critical to the future of our air transportation system and U.S. competitiveness in the global marketplace," said U.S. Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI), Aviation Subcommittee Chairman.
"NextGen will transform air transportation by transitioning to a satellite-based surveillance system, improving communications between pilots and controllers, and developing more efficient navigation routes from start to finish. The goal is to create a system that is safer, less impacted by weather conditions, better for the environment, and more consistent with fewer delays. The FAA has made some progress, but it also faces significant challenges.
"The FAA is currently spending roughly $1 billion each year to develop and implement NextGen. The aviation industry will have to invest billions of dollars to equip their aircraft with the avionics from which the benefits of NextGen will be derived. Unfortunately, the FAA's progress is slower than expected and, as a result, the industry has been reluctant to invest.
"It is very clear that everyone, including industry, FAA, and Congress, wants NextGen to succeed. The FAA Modernization and Reform Act enacted earlier this year devoted an entire title to NextGen. Among the many reforms included in the law is the creation of new leadership positions within the FAA that are responsible and accountable for NextGen implementation,requirements for the FAA to define performance metrics to measure progress, and to establish operational or financial incentives for avionics equipage.
"Like other major infrastructure programs, NextGen is expensive and hard. This is further complicated by the tight federal budget. But, according to the DOT Inspector General, funding has not been a problem. And certainly Congressional support for NextGen remains strong. At the end of the day, the FAA must overcome the challenges and get the job done."