By FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey, October 21, 2004
Good morning, and thank you for inviting me. You know, this is an opportunity I always look forward to. AOPA is a group that cares about aviation ... A group that cares about America ... And you love to fly. Now that's my kind of audience.
I think best of all I like the approach AOPA takes to getting the job done. I met with Phil just last week, and I tell you, the man could sell ice chips to an iceberg. And it's not the razzle-dazzle chatter, either. He comes armed with the facts ... and a brochure on just about every topic under the sun. Phil, I appreciate your work. But most of all, I appreciate your enthusiasm. The man has two settings: off, and takeoff. Kudos, Mr. Boyer.
But it turns out that Phil doesn't have a corner on the market for enthusiasm at AOPA. One of the main reasons I like working with AOPA is that it's always kicking up some dust ... always making things happen. In fact, it's my pleasure to announce that the FAA has signed an official agreement with one of your members, young Jamail Larkins.
As many of you know, he's the youngest air show performer in the country. He's also an outspoken advocate for careers in aviation. We're about to sign a partnership agreement, cementing our plans to use Jamail as an ambassador for aviation. He's going to be speaking at our ACE Camps and other youth activities. I'm told he's also going to be featured in an upcoming issue of Parade magazine. This young man is a go-getter. Phil, don't be surprised when he starts selling ice chips right next to you.
Speaking of making things happen, these two aren't alone. As this audience knows well that one of my biggest concerns is the vitality of airports in America. We've got 5,280 public-use airports with more than 6,500 runways, but as we all know, there's always seems to be an effort to one shut down.
Now, consider what was about to happen in Saint Petersburg, Florida. This is an opportunity for me to talk about Jack Tunstill. I've yet to meet him - but I'm sure looking forward to it. I think it's safe to say that the opponents of Albert Whitted Airport had a surprise when they made moves to shut it down. From his pictures, Jack sure seems friendly ... just don't mess with his airport.
Jack's been described as the driving force behind the effort to save Albert Whitted. That may be the understatement of the year. As a member of AOPA's airport support network, he worked to bring together the efforts of two different organizations ... the airport advisory council and the Whitted Preservation Society. That's no mean feat.
As many of you may know, SPG sits on some prime real estate. Given its bayside location, I can't say that I'm all that surprised about the idea to close Whitted in favor of a waterfront park. But it seems that the water park was only half of the plan. When Jack unraveled this ball of string, he found a real estate developer at the other end. The developer had designs for waterfront high-rises.
Jack brought it to the people. And by a 3-to-1 margin, Albert Whitted Airport remains in place. Jack Tunstill is tenacious from the get-go. A tip of the hat to you, Jack. Congratulations on winning the Laurence P. Sharples [ sharp-less] Award. AOPA gives the award to "an individual whose life's work is outside the field of general aviation, but whose interest is in the betterment of general aviation." Jack, that description fits you to a T. Your work as a professional engineer, chair of the airport advisory committee, CFI and FAA safety counselor puts you right at the top of the list ... and deservedly so.
I've got to give credit to AOPA as well. The Airport Support Network is a terrific idea ... You're saying loud and clear: " If you want to get at my airport, you're going to have to come through me!" These volunteer advocates are an early warning system that really works.
And we at the FAA are fighting the battles right along with you. If you've been checking the headlines, you know that we're taking steps in Chicago. With the full support of the President, we're proposing to fine the city the maximum amount for closing Meigs. Let me tell you, it sure helps to have a pilot in the White House. We also opened a formal investigation into the city's use of O'Hare Airport funds to close Meigs. While we can't make the city reopen the airport, we can make them follow the rules.
Airports are a national resource. Just like our forests. Once they're gone, they're gone. And I, for one, think we need to do a better job protecting the framework of our national transportation system. America needs airports. That's turf we can't afford to lose. You know, together, the FAA and AOPA are also working to keep Buchanan Field open. When it all comes down to it, our job is to make sure sponsors and communities understand that by accepting federal grants, they've got to keep the airport open and available ... and at reasonable standards and fees for all users.
That being said, we're also facing a different sort of airport access problem that has us concerned. The "close it at all costs" approach has given way, at least in some spots in California - such as Oceanside - to a much more subtle approach. There's a move now to provide fewer and fewer facilities ... hangars, maintenance, and tiedowns. This favors the corporate jet at the expense of light GA. I want to assure you that we're working that issue as well.
Let me turn to another subject that's of great importance to both of us: automated flight service stations. AOPA members have never been known for failing to speak their minds ... so let me be direct. The taxpayer cannot afford the bill for automated flight service stations as they exist today.
We're already faced with daunting budget constraints. The majority of the FAA's budget comes from the aviation trust fund, which is fed by ticket taxes. With the prices of tickets falling and the number of passengers per aircraft decreasing, this trust fund can't pay for our increasing costs. Each time one of our specialists picks up the phone, it costs the taxpayer an average of 25 dollars. Nationwide, the bill comes to more than 500 million dollars per year, a number that includes salaries for about 2,700 employees. We also know that most of our automated flight service stations are in need of major upgrades. Almost 40 percent of Flight Service employees are eligible to retire.
So here's the dilemma: how can we save money and upgrade our equipment and our service? Back in the 1950s, the Eisenhower Administration developed the A-76 program ... competitive sourcing. To be perfectly clear, it's not privatization. It's not selling the system to the lowest bidder. The goal is simple: make sure that the government isn't paying too much to get the job done. And the best way to check the math is to allow private sector companies to bid. The Inspector General's office has been saying since 2001 that consolidation of these automated flight service stations is the right thing to do. He projected that we could save 500 million dollars over seven years.
So whether the government or the private sector wins the competition, the over-arching goal remains the same: to provide safe service for the pilot. Since the taxpayer foots the bill, it has to be affordable.
For those of you who read Phil's editorial last August in Pilot, you know that we collect only about 60 million in avgas taxes. That's well short when the full tab comes to more than 500 million.
The FAA and AOPA are in complete agreement. Both sides want to protect the needs of the pilot. And with specific respect to user fees, let me repeat what I said last year: The FAA doesn't support a fee-based system. I don't know how to be clearer than that.
Let's talk for a minute about equipment and equipage. The Wide Area Augmentation System is here, and I'm encouraging you to be part of the new wave. For those of you who aren't up to speed on this, WAAS provides the additional accuracy, availability, continuity and integrity necessary to rely on GPS for all phases of flight. We commissioned WAAS in July of 03. It covers most of the continental United States, bordering oceanic regions, and much of Alaska. Right now, WAAS is the only satellite-based augmentation system certified for 24-hour per day operations in the world.
With that as a frame of reference, let me read you an e-mail I received on October 7th: " After so many years of advocacy ... last week the first WAAS receiver was certified. I have flown 6 WAAS approaches here at Frederick and other nearby airports. Wow! It works, rock steady and what a boon to safety and utility for GA."
See, Phil? You need to be careful what you put in e-mail. But I am looking forward to flying that approach with you. You know, WAAS improves efficiency, capacity, and most importantly, safety. It provides better departure, en route, and arrival navigation ability and vertical guidance for all qualified runway ends, and increased situational awareness on the ground.
Today, WAAS users are able to fly over 700 LNAV/VNAV approaches to as low as 350 feet at nearly 300 runways across the country. There are 39 LPV approaches to as low as 250 feet at 25 airports. Ten of these LPV approaches are at airports that have no ILS. We've delivered precision approach IFR services to airports that before the advent of WAAS would have cost about 15 million dollars.
For the record, we're developing about 300 RNAV GPS procedures per year. We'll continue to develop them until all qualified runway ends have approaches with vertical guidance. There are about 4,500 qualified runway ends that could receive RNAV GPS approaches with WAAS providing vertical guidance. For each runway that we develop and publish a WAAS procedure where no ILS is available, we avoid the expense of an ILS and the high cots of maintenance. This is win-win.
U.S. avionics manufacturers have plans to build new WAAS receivers or upgrade existing GPS receivers to WAAS capability. Two manufacturers - Garmin and Chelton Flight Systems - have certified WAAS receivers that can fly in the arrival, departure, and en route flight regimes. Garmin's new 480 model is the first certified for all phases of flight, including approaches down to LPV minimums.
A big question, though, is the cost of the avionics. WAAS is and will continue to be comparable to the cost of a first-generation GPS receiver. Today, you can purchase a new WAAS receiver for under 10 thousand. You can upgrade an existing GPS receiver for as little as 15 hundred. It's a good investment and an investment in safety. An ILS runs about 1.5 million.
I'd like to touch upon a few safety items before I close. Access and airspace have changed in the post 9/11 environment. We live in a different day and age, and there's no getting around it. You know, in the broad scheme of things, I think aviation is affected more than most. The complex set of security rules and procedures that are in place are new to all of us. But I don't see any of that changing any time soon. The same is true for TFRs that pop up. Large sporting events, movement by the President, conventions - like this one, I suppose - all fall within the rubric of security. Homeland Security, Defense, the Secret Service and the FBI all weigh in. I assure you that we're advocating your views. We're pushing to minimize the impact. But as we all know, the only way to stay on top of this is to stay engaged. I read in this month's Pilot that 10,000 of you have successfully completed AOPA's on-line "Know Before You Go" course. In 20 minutes, you get a course on how to understand - and avoid - TFRs. That's good work.
Speaking of good work, from an overall safety standpoint, things look good for GA. In the FAA's Flight Plan - which you can find on-line at www.FAA.gov - we have listed a number of goals for GA safety. Last year was a good year. For fatal GA accidents, we set a target based on historic trends. The number was 349, and we came in at 340. I think it's safe to say that our involvement with the AOPA Air Safety Foundation is making a difference. Last year, the FAA and the Foundation held more than 175 safety seminars. The on-line safety center provides educational programs available 24/7.
We're working especially closely on runway incursions. They're down, especially the most serious ones, which have dropped 50 percent since 2000. But the numbers show that GA is involved in a disproportionately high number of serious incursions caused by pilot deviations as compared to its percentage of aircraft operations in the NAS. When looking at the most serious incursions caused by pilot deviations this Year, GA is responsible for all 14 of them. These are occurring at GA airports, and I'm encouraging you to be vigilant.
The good news is that we're working with AOPA to get this turned around. We just published a pilot awareness brochure, "Runway Safety: A Pilot's Guide to Safe Surface Operations." A DVD "Heads up, hold short, fly right" - goes along with it. I'd encourage you to get a copy at our runway safety booth. It's free. By the way, AOPA is also featuring a state-of-the-art Internet course on runway safety. I can't say enough about how impressive that is. When you educate the pilot, you raise the bar on safety. It's that simple. You know, a U.S. runway is a very safe place to be, and I'm counting on a cooperative relationship with you to keep it that way.
So in closing, there's no question that working together is producing tremendous results. The FAA and AOPA have bonded to form a strong partnership. Given your track record for safety and improving your skills, I'm confident that the best is yet to come. With that, I'll be happy to take some questions....