Remarks Prepared for Delivery
Jane F. Garvey
Federal Aviation Administration
Changes in Latitude, Changes in Longitude:
Perspectives on the FAA and the National Airspace System
Aero Club of Washington
July 23, 2002
I am delighted to be here. Thanks for asking me back—not just today, but many times for the last five years. You know, I've really looked forward to these speeches at the Aero Club. I've come to think of them less as formal speeches than as part of the ongoing discussion we've been having, you and me—everywhere from air traffic control towers to board rooms to Capitol Hill, from long flights to even longer conference calls—pretty much around the clock since 1997.
Of course, I wouldn't want to carry the analogy too far. If this were really a discussion instead of a speech, I'd be doing more listening than talking. Normally, that would suit me just fine. But since this may be my last official appearance as Administrator of the FAA, I'd be remiss if I didn't have a few things to say. Specifically, I'd like to look back briefly at the last five years—at the considerable challenges we've faced, the lessons we've learned, and the progress we've made, together, toward meeting those challenges.
I'd also like to take a look ahead—at the further progress we can make if the pilots, air traffic controllers, union leaders, legislators, and manufacturers—all the members of the aviation community—who join us here today keep doing the kind of job I've seen you do during my time in office.
Unlike the President, the Constitution doesn't require me to give a State of the Union address. But I do get to give something approaching a State of Aviation address, and this is the place I've always chosen to give it. In preparing today's remarks, I took a look back at some of those old speeches; and what struck me, in retrospect, was the sheer number of subjects—all of them critical, most of them controversial, and, as I know you will agree, none of them easy. I've stood before you to talk about modernization, labor-management relations, security, infrastructure, Y2K, and a whole lot more.
Reading through those old speeches, I was less nostalgic than profoundly grateful—grateful this job doesn't have life tenure. I guess some of my critics have felt the same way. But you know, I've loved this job. I have been profoundly privileged to work with you in advancing this vital, essential enterprise: aviation. What people and planes can do in today's skies is no less magnificent than it was when the Wright brothers took wing, or Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic. And it is certainly no less important.
Today, you could say that our nation's economic engines run on jet fuel. The economic impact of aviation is so big it's almost beyond measure. Revenues generated by airports like Chicago O'Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Hartsfield Atlanta run in the billions. U.S. aerospace industries have become America's leading exporter in the manufacturing sector. And as we were reminded so painfully after September 11, travel and tourism, which depends on the airlines, accounts for one out of seven jobs in America, and is among the top three employers in 29 states.
In this era of globalization, technologies like cable modems and cell phones make vital connections—still, they're virtual connections. If you really want to reach the rest of the world, you've got to board a plane. Simply put, there is no globalization without aviation. That's why, on any given day, as many as 1.9 million Americans take to the skies on one of 33,000 commercial flights. Internationally, each year, that number is as high as 1.6 billion—more than one-fourth of the people on this planet.
We chart our progress by numbers like these—billions of passengers, billions in revenue, millions of tons of cargo, minutes (at most!) of delay. But, of course, it's not just numbers that count. It's people. It's the men, women and children who board our planes every day—to attend a daughter's wedding; to leave for college for the first time; to attend an important meeting on the other side of the world; or to visit a new grandchild just a short flight from home.
Like you, I want those families to feel safer in the skies. I want more of those business travelers to reach their destinations on time. I want that commerce to flow more freely. These are the reasons that, when I was nominated to lead the FAA, I seized the challenge. And you don't need me to tell you what a big challenge it's been. At my confirmation hearings in 1997, senators described the job of FAA Administrator as, among other things, "difficult...demanding...overwhelming." And those were the optimists!
Well, however they described the job, there was no question that as FAA Administrator, like my predecessors, I was going to face some daunting and complex challenges. Beyond the everyday trials of managing an organization with 50,000 employees, and overseeing the largest and most complex air traffic management system in the world, there was the challenge of restoring confidence in an industry that had been hit hard by some terrible accidents. Morale was sinking. The Y2K threat was looming.
As I said in 1997, our first and most important priority was to make the world's safest skies even safer, in the face of dynamic industry growth, expanding demand, and public concerns. And we had to modernize the nation's airspace system in a timely and cost effective way. From my first days in office, these have been my goals. Just as important, they have been yours as well. I believed then—and believe even more strongly today, after the experience of these past five years—that the only way to meet these challenges is to face them together, government and industry, pilots and air traffic controllers, labor and management the FAA and Congress.
Collaboration isn't just a management style. Consensus isn't just something to strive for. In aviation, they are essential elements in any real plan for progress. As the pilot Lane Wallace has written: "In one sense we are all alone, whether in an airplane or on the ground, and we have final responsibility for whatever path we take through life or the sky... [But] we understand that while we may fly solo, we are also all connected, and we need each other in order to survive."
That's true not only for pilots, but also for controllers, technicians, mechanics, flight attendants—and the FAA Administrator. We've stopped defining ourselves by our competing interests and started applying ourselves to our common goals. Those goals haven't changed: we're focused, as ever, on safety, efficiency, and adding capacity. But the way we pursue our goals has been evolving. We now pursue them as a community. We acknowledge—even embrace—our interdependence. And that, in my view, has made all the difference these past five years.
It's certainly made a difference in the accident rate. Working together, we reduced the accident rate for U.S. airlines by 29 percent over our baseline last year. We did so by agreeing on an unprecedented strategic plan for safety— Safer Skies. We now base our priorities on what the data, not the headlines, say. Through new partnerships like ASAP, the Aviation Safety Action Program, and by sharing data, we can identify early warning signs, intervene in targeted ways, and track the effectiveness of our efforts. I'm proud that we've met every annual target in the accident rate, and I'm confident that by 2007, we'll reach our greater goal: reducing the commercial accident rate by 80 percent.
Working together, the aviation community is also building a newer, more efficient, more capable air traffic control system. In modernization, just as in safety, establishing clear and achievable targets is the best way to gauge our progress. That's why we set them very carefully. But in one important case, the deadline was set for us: the year 2000. When I took office, the new millennium was coming, whether we liked it or not. And our air traffic control system had to be ready.
The Y2K bug was one of our first big challenges. The country, the Congress, the GAO—all wondered whether we were up to the task. Congress held numerous hearings as 2000 approached, with members demanding to know what we were doing and how quickly we were doing it. And there was a lot to be done. You may remember, the FAA alone had more than 600 systems—and millions of lines of code—that had to be reprogrammed before the clock struck midnight. The U.S. had the added responsibility of leading the rest of the world's aviation systems through what had to be a seamless transition. And we did it. That experience, I think, showed us all what we can achieve when we apply ourselves to a common goal.
Over the past five years, we have met many other imperatives of modernization with the same determination. Since 1997, we've completed more than 7,100 projects, installing new facilities, systems, and equipment across the U.S. and integrating them into the National Airspace System. We've done more than 10,000 upgrades of ATC hardware and software. Today, you can visit every one of our centers in America and won't find a single piece of hardware that's been around longer than I've been in this job. (It only feels like a long time.)
With the FAA's commitment to RNP—which takes advantage of the aircraft's capabilities—we're taking crucial steps in our transition from a ground-based to a satellite-based system, and toward safely handling more aircraft in less airspace.
I think the way we achieved all this is no less remarkable than what we've achieved. You know, it seems sort of obvious that when you're designing new technological tools, you ought to consult the people—controllers, technicians, pilots—who are going to use them. For too long, that just wasn't the case. When new equipment arrived at the loading dock, it was a little too much like Christmas Day—no one knew what was inside the box; the instructions were near impossible to follow; and batteries were not included.
Today, everyone knows what to expect—and how to use it. When we develop new products and programs, we do it not only with the users in mind, but at the drawing board.
With all this new hardware and software, delays due to equipment are down 70 percent from this time last year. A Eurocontrol report shows that the productivity of U.S. controllers is about twice as great as in Europe—and that our air traffic management is about twice as efficient. It's true: you just don't hear about outages anymore. Instead, you hear about more direct routes, lower fuel consumption, and—let us not forget—better service for the men, women, and children who entrust us with their air travel. Of course, they're less concerned with who's using what technology than with getting to their destination safely, swiftly, and affordably. These new efforts help them to do so.
And it is this clear progress in air traffic management that is so critical for aviation's recovery from the one-two punch of the terrorist attacks and last year's recession. After an inevitable decline—in traffic, yields, revenue—we expect to see traffic returning to pre-recession levels next year.
Those one billion annual passengers we've been projecting may not be in the departure lounge just yet, but they're on the way. Demand will continue its historic rise—and we're determined to meet it.
Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta talks frequently about closing the gap between demand for air travel and the capacity of our infrastructure. Whether or not we build it, they will come. And as Phil Condit reminded us in a recent speech, "Economic growth follows infrastructure."
That's why the government and the aviation community reached agreement last year on the Operational Evolution Plan, which, as you know, is the centerpiece of the FAA's efforts to build and expand infrastructure over the next decade. The OEP includes new runways, new technologies, and new procedures. It's not a wish list; it's a set of marching orders—clearly setting out the responsibilities of the FAA, airlines, and airports. These ideas are meant for action. And we're already seeing what action can achieve.
Look at Detroit. Detroit's new runway opened last December. Overnight, the number of flights per hour that Detroit Metro can handle jumped from 146 to 182 in good weather—a 25 percent increase. We've targeted our efforts toward the worst bottlenecks in the system. The controllers among you have told me that conflict probe, now in use at four en route centers, is the biggest improvement in the en route environment they've seen in their entire careers. It cuts costs even as it cuts emissions.
With results like this, I am more confident than ever that we are going to meet our goal: increasing capacity by up to 30 percent over the next ten years. We are already looking at how we can accelerate initiatives and reach for more capacity.
Then, of course, the critical question—which we are already tackling with industry—is, "What's next?"
All of this progress flows directly from one source: our spirit of community. It is incredible to behold. I have seen it in so many ways on so many occasions during my five years in office.
And in all that time, the spirit of community was never stronger than on September 11. Among the countless acts of heroism on that terrible day, history will record the way the aviation community pulled together, in the worst of circumstances, to bring the planes down quickly and safely—and bring the system back up smoothly in the weeks that followed.
We have realized more and more the potential of flight. We have mitigated more of its risks. But in many ways, we've only begun.
Moving forward, our mission must be to build on this foundation—and create a legacy worthy of our children. The next Administrator will face many challenges—some I've just discussed, and surely many new ones. One of the greatest will be the challenge of staying focused on modernization and safety, in the face of new security pressures.
For obvious reasons, security concerns will continue to command the headlines. They demand our attention and deserve our vigilance.
The FAA's mission is just as important as ever. Not only the new administrator, but also all of us, must keep our focus on that. The industry faces an additional challenge in providing a higher and higher level of service to its customers. I do not want to leave office without saying how grateful I am to Presidents Bush and Clinton, and Secretaries Mineta and Slater, for entrusting me with this awesome responsibility. And I am grateful to you for helping me, to the best of my abilities, to fulfill it.
I took office on the cusp of a new century; and depart with those new horizons, and the new possibilities we foresaw, a little closer in reach. It is you who made it so; you who created this moment of opportunity; you who will carry us forward. Every time I visit a control facility or an airport, or talk to a pilot, or see the launch of a new technology, I am impressed anew by your dedication and professionalism. I am uplifted by your commitment to our mission.
I know my successor will count on your insights and energies just as much as I have. Because if one thing is clear to me as I leave office, it is that our roles, like our lives, are interdependent; our goals are interconnected. Modernization, for example, is dependent on the financial health of the industry. Safety depends not only on new technology but also on the century-old concern of labor relations. Efficiency in the air has a lot to do with security provisions on the ground. And so on. None of us is flying solo.
Robert Kennedy said: "The future is not a gift, it is an achievement. Every generation helps create its own future." We have built a foundation for that future. And now, it is yours to create. We have accomplished much in the last five years, but not enough to rest. The world is moving too fast for that. The challenges are too great. Our common endeavor is just too important.
Nearly a century after the Wright brothers took to the skies, 75 years after Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic, aviation continues its incredible ascent. We're gaining altitude. Picking up speed. And with you at the controls, we'll continue our climb.
Thank you all. Good luck and Godspeed.