Anticipated Challenges Demand Better Long-Term R&D Goals for FAA

Feb 16, 2011
Anticipated Challenges Demand Better Long-Term R&D Goals for FAA

Washington, DC – Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Chairman Steven Palazzo (R-MS) today convened his first hearing of the 112th Congress, to review the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) portfolio of research and development (R&D) programs, and to examine priorities and challenges.  R&D is an essential component of FAA’s ability to provide solutions to emerging industry challenges and create new capabilities.

“Our national air transportation system plays a critical role in every American’s daily life, enabling aviation services to conveniently reach into virtually every corner of our nation,” said Chairman Palazzo.  “It is a capability that has enabled our society to flourish in many ways and while economists have often spoken about the incalculable benefits that were enabled by the development of the interstate highway system, there is no doubt that aviation has had a comparable effect, stitching together virtually all regions and communities of our nation.

In 2009, the FAA estimates that our nation’s commercial aviation industry accounted for 5.6% of U.S. Gross Domestic Product, which is roughly $1.3 trillion in economic activity.  Additionally, aerospace products represent the fastest growing source for technological exports.

U.S. civil aviation R&D is carried out both by FAA and NASA.  Their efforts are complementary, not duplicative.  FAA R&D focuses on near-term strategic needs enabling the agency to address industry challenges primarily related to aviation safety, environmental compliance, and implementation of the Next Generation Air Transportation Management Systems (NextGen).  NextGen is the agency’s high priority program to modernize our nation’s air traffic control system.  Its goals are to triple the capacity of our national airspace system and to make the system safer and more secure, and to mitigate aviation’s impact on the environment.

Witnessed today highlighted several ways that FAA can improve their long-term R&D efforts.  Dr. R. John Hansman, Chair of the FAA Research, Engineering, and Development Advisory Committee (REDAC), said plans that have been presented to his committee “do not articulate a high level of vision,” for R&D.  Dr. Hansman said, “The REDAC has recommended that a high level R&D plan be developed from the existing more detailed plans and enterprise architecture in order to articulate the R&D vision and identify the critical path of R&D for NextGen.”  Hansman also said that the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO), which coordinates interagency planning for NextGen, “has not been effective as a long-range planning office for the FAA.”

Responding to this criticism, Ms. Victoria Cox, Senior Vice President of NextGen and Operations Planning in the Air Traffic Organization at FAA, conceded that interagency cooperation and coordination has been very difficult and she agreed with the recommendation to improve planning of longer term R&D.

The following witnesses also testified today:
The Hon. Calvin Scovel, III, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Transportation; and
Mr. Peter Bunce, President and CEO, General Aviation Manufacturers Association.

For more information about today’s hearing, or to read witness testimony, please visit the Science, Space, and Technology Committee website.

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