Chairman Rockefeller's Opening Statement on FAA Reauthorization

March 25, 2009

Opening Statement – John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, Chairman

I want to thank Senator Dorgan for agreeing to Chair the Aviation Subcommittee.  I hope you will enjoy chairing the Subcommittee as much as Senator Hutchison and I have over the years. 

The aviation industry will be well served by Senator Dorgan’s leadership on this Subcommittee. 

Senator Hutchison and I look forward to working with Senators Dorgan and DeMint on producing legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Safety is always the paramount concern in the aviation industry, and modernizing the air traffic control (ATC) system will significantly increase the level of safety in the U.S. airspace system.

Senator Dorgan’s first hearing as the Aviation Chairman focuses on the most critical challenge facing the aviation system – making sure FAA has the ability to develop and implement the Next Generation Air Traffic Control System (NextGen).  I know he shares my commitment to meeting this challenge. 

I strongly believe that modernizing our nation’s embarrassingly obsolete air traffic control system is the FAA’s highest priority, and the efforts to reauthorize should reflect this. 

Everyone knows of my passion to move the U.S. past Mongolia in the ranking of air traffic control systems, and I’d like to make just a few very brief remarks on this issue. 

The development of NextGen is not just a technology project that would be good to do.  It is not just some computer upgrade project.  I wish it was just that easy or simple. 

NextGen is a multi-year, multi-billion dollar effort to fundamentally transform the way we move tens of thousands of aircraft, millions of people, and millions of tons of goods around the country every day. 

For too long, we have focused on the technology of the system.  We’ve become too focused on acronyms like SWIM and ADS-B, rather than the benefits that all Americans will enjoy by building a satellite-based system with digital communications. 

For me, Next Gen is not about technology – it’s about people, it’s about our aviation industry, it’s about small communities being able to connect to the national aviation system, and fundamentally, it’s about our ability to compete in a global economy.  

The challenge that I want to pose to the witnesses today and to the aviation industry is to find a way to work together to make this happen. 

Rivalries in the aviation community have hampered the industry’s ability to speak with one voice for far too long.  Without that one voice, you will fail.  

We cannot afford to fail.