Yesterday at the invitation of U.S. Representative Frank LoBiondo --Chair of the House T&I Aviation Subcommittee-- U.S. Senator Cory Booker, Chairman LoBiondo, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, and I had the pleasure of visiting our Federal Aviation Administration's William J. Hughes Technical Center in New Jersey. This was my first visit to the tech center, and I was really excited to meet with employees --there are 3,000-- and see the great work they do.
My only regret is that I wasn't able to bring my 9-year-old daughter with me. Hilary, as you may recall from when I laid out my priorities earlier this year, has some big ideas about the future of American aviation. I'm sure she'd love it at the tech center because our employees there have always dreamed big.
Located 10 miles northwest of Atlantic City, the tech center is the nation's premier aviation research facility. It covers 5,000 acres and is home to state-of-the-art laboratories and test facilities, not to mention Atlantic City International Airport.
Since 1958 --the same year our FAA was founded-- the men and women of the center have led America's efforts to modernize our national airspace. From automating air traffic control to developing satellite navigation, they've had a hand in advancing countless improvements in aviation safety and efficiency.
Today, the hard work of turning big dreams into effective modernization focuses on continuing to develop our NextGen technology, the future of aviation.
In 2012, the estimated cost of airport delays and congestion was $22 billion, and our forecasts indicate that the use of airplanes and airports will continue rising steadily. How then, do we ensure that we continue to have the safest, most efficient airspace in the world?
Our NextGen package of new technologies and new processes. By shifting to satellite-based technologies, we've begun increasing capacity in the system, enabling more direct flight paths, saving fuel, and reducing noise and emissions.
And the NextGen Integration and Evaluation Capability (NIEC) center at Hughes has helped make NextGen a steadily growing part of American aviation. Employees there are able to simulate the airspace in any part of the country. As a result, we've already made significant strides putting NextGen into real-world practice, including establishing NextGen metroplexes and installating the ground infrastructure for ADS-B satellite tracking technology.
I also toured the largest aviation fire test facility in the world, and the center's pavement testing facility.
I'm sure that pavement is not the first thing you think of when you fly. But without the pavement tests being done at Hughes, we'd have no real way of knowing if airport runways were designed correctly to withstand the impacts of landings and takeoffs. Which tells me that our tech center team takes no aspect of aviation for granted.
Well, at DOT we're not taking any of their work for granted, either.
Even with all of the recent focus on our Highway Trust Fund, we haven't forgotten that the FAA --the agency responsible for safeguarding American aviation-- is still operating at historically low funding levels. So you can be sure we'll keep working with Congress, in advance of next year, to secure stable funding and to pass a new FAA reauthorization bill.
Because without FAA reauthorization, those big dreams of a safer, more efficient aviation system will remain just dreams.