Chairman Rockefeller's Opening Remarks for Reauthorization of the FAA Hearing

May 13, 2009

I would like to welcome everyone here today, and express my regret for not being in attendance. I also want to thank Senator Dorgan for his tremendous leadership and I applaud him for holding this important subcommittee hearing.


I strongly believe that modernizing our nation’s archaic air traffic control system should be the FAA’s highest priority and I appreciate the many stakeholders who have come to the Committee to testify today.  Many of the challenges facing the aviation industry will only be solved when we work together to make changes for the good of the entire airspace system and the millions of travelers who rely on this service.


It is 2009 and our nation’s aviation system is incredibly outdated. Nowhere is this more apparent than our antiquated air traffic control system. As I have said before, this is simply unacceptable.  


I am deeply committed to implementing Next Generation Air Traffic Control System (NextGen), a satellite-based navigation and air traffic management system. NextGen will address the long ignored safety and economic shortcomings in civil aviation while fully integrating national defense and homeland security improvements.   Moving to a satellite- based system represents a fundamental shift from our current system that has been in place since the 1950s.


 Modernization of Air Traffic Control (ATC) will fundamentally transform the way we travel. More efficient use of airspace will cut costs for everyday fliers, while also accommodating millions of additional passengers with less congestion and fewer delays. It is imperative that we take this opportunity to reauthorize the FAA to make certain NextGen is adequately funded for implementing key programs.


Modernization is also absolutely critical in keeping America competitive, improving our economy, and providing billions of dollars in increased productivity to U.S. companies.  Air carriers will see fuel costs reduced, more communities will have access to uncongested hubs, and more companies will be able to operate efficiently in these challenging economic times. 


It goes without saying that safety is always the paramount goal in aviation.  With a serious investment in NextGen, we can make the air traffic system significantly safer through modern tracking technology for controllers on the ground and pilots in the sky.


Reauthorization legislation must also address concerns regarding FAA’s oversight of airline maintenance operations and troubling trends in runway incursions and operational errors.   As part of this commitment to safety, we are looking to develop a comprehensive package that will address the multiple issues raised by aviation experts and government agencies. 


In closing I want to reiterate that we have the unique opportunity right now to make sure the FAA makes the necessary changes in our aviation system that Americans need.  Congress and industry stakeholders must take the steps needed to ensure vigorous oversight of the modernization process. 


And most importantly to my great state of West Virginia I want to highlight - unless we move forward with NextGen quickly we will continue seeing congestion and delay in a system that inhibits commerce rather than fostering economic activity so vital to our communities.  This is particularly true for small and rural communities, who can’t be left behind by the forces of deregulation.  A true aviation system must connect the entire country together, not just our largest cities.


I look forward to hearing the views of all the stakeholders here today and working with all of you to develop real and workable solutions.  We cannot afford to fail.