The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a full committee hearing entitled, “FAA Reauthorization: Air Traffic Control Modernization and Reform,” on Tuesday, May 19, 2015, at 10:00 a.m. The administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, and industry leaders are scheduled to testify.
As the fifth in a series of hearings on the reauthorization of the FAA, this hearing will focus on the agency’s efforts to modernize the air traffic control (ATC) system, including the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) initiative, and explore potential structural reforms of the system. For decades, the FAA has pursued an ATC modernization program that has been plagued by cost overruns, schedule delays, performance shortcomings, and a lack of buy-in by airspace users. In addition to modernization challenges, reform advocates have cited structural and governance limitations that impede FAA’s ability to manage the ATC system and provide reliable financing. This hearing will be an opportunity for Commerce Committee members to consider these matters in depth as the Committee explores remedies that could be included in a forthcoming FAA reauthorization bill.
- The Honorable Michael P. Huerta, Administrator, Federal Aviation Administration
- The Honorable John Engler, President, Business Roundtable
- The Honorable Byron Dorgan, Senior Policy Advisor, Arent Fox LLP
- Mr. Jeff Smisek, Chairman, President and CEO, United Airlines
- Mr. Paul Rinaldi, President, National Air Traffic Controllers Association
- Mr. Ed Bolen, President and CEO, National Business Aviation Association
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Full Committee hearing titled, “FAA Reauthorization: Air Traffic Control Modernization and Reform”
This hearing will take place in Senate Russell Office Building, Room 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be on this page.
For reporters interested in reserving a seat, please contact the press gallery:
• Periodical Press Gallery – 202-224-0265
• Radio/Television Gallery – 202-224-6421
• Press Photographers Gallery – 202-224-6548
• Daily Press Gallery – 202-224-0241
Individuals with disabilities who require an auxiliary aid or service, including closed captioning service for the webcast hearing, should contact Stephanie Gamache at 202-224-5511 at least three business days in advance of the hearing date.
Chairman John Thune
"Good morning. Today, the Commerce Committee concludes its series of planned hearings on reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with an examination of the nation’s air traffic control system. Let me begin by thanking Aviation Subcommittee Chair Ayotte and Ranking Member Cantwell for taking us through several valuable hearings on the way to this full committee hearing. It has been a busy work period, and a great deal of progress has been made thanks to your efforts.
"The U.S. air traffic control, or ATC, system involves thousands of dedicated air traffic controllers guiding tens of thousands of flights safely across the country on a daily basis. We can all be proud of the system’s safety record.
"At the same time, increasing demand, the need to improve efficiency, and changes in technology all underscore the need to modernize a system that is still radar-based and operated using concepts and procedures developed decades ago.
"Efforts to modernize ATC hardware and software have made some progress recently, but the long view indicates modernization programs have often taken too much time and cost too much.
"We have stacks of reports from the DOT’s Office of Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office detailing the implementation delays and cost-overruns that have plagued these efforts for decades and stymied leadership from multiple administrations.
"The most recent and visible initiative in this area is the Next Generation Air Transportation System – or NextGen.
"Before NextGen was given a name, the original goal was something called “Free Flight,” which was expected to result in a genuine transformation of the system away from air traffic control to air traffic management. Taking advantage of GPS for navigation and surveillance was at the heart of this idea. As initially envisioned, FAA would save money eliminating most radars, and airspace operators would save time, money and fuel by choosing their own direct routes.
"But more than 15 years after the FAA began talking about Free Flight, we still seem to be more than a decade away from anything resembling it. In fact, a recent study by the National Research Council concluded that NextGen currently seems to be more about incremental programs and improvements, rather than a transformational change. Also, airlines and other operators in the system now feel burdened with the expense and effort of implementing changes that won’t yield direct benefits for them for many years to come.
"This situation has led several stakeholders and policy makers to question whether the current ATC structure is best suited for the tasks at hand.
"And long-standing difficulties with modernization are just one reason to consider reform. The system’s reliance on annual appropriations and the vagaries of the political process make long-term planning for system capitalization and management of the agency’s footprint difficult, and probably more costly.
"And, the FAA will always face challenges attracting and retaining the talent needed to drive major technological change when it must compete with cutting edge businesses in the private sector.
"To address these challenges, we must carefully consider if there is a better way to deliver ATC services for the traveling public and airspace users, and I am open to considering all ideas. FAA has a great record as a safety regulator—something that would certainly continue if air traffic control services were moved out of the FAA or government.
"Many countries around the world have undergone such transitions with success, and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about what reform of our system might look like, and how reform could serve the needs of all airspace users.
"To be sure, the matters we discuss today are just part of a larger effort on FAA reauthorization where we will address a host of other important issues. I am looking forward to working with Ranking Member Nelson, as well as Senators Ayotte and Cantwell, to advance such legislation.
"Lastly, I want to stress that our interests about ATC modernization are not focused only on the current leadership team at FAA. As I mentioned before, it seems clear that there are structural limitations that have impeded success over the years. I suppose the key question is whether, if we were to build an air traffic control system from scratch today, would we necessarily conform to the old strictures, or strike a better path?
"I look forward to this discussion and now turn to my colleague, Senator Nelson, for his opening remarks."
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Michael P. HuertaAdministratorFederal Aviation AdministrationHuerta Testimony (49.20 KB)
The Honorable John EnglerPresidentBusiness RoundtableEngler Testimony (252.64 KB)
The Honorable Byron DorganSenior Policy AdvisorArent Fox LLPDorgan Testimony (343.19 KB)
Mr. Jeff SmisekChairman, President and CEOUnited AirlinesSmisek Testimony (244.86 KB)
Mr. Paul RinaldiPresidentNational Air Traffic Controllers Association
Mr. Ed BolenPresident and CEONaitonal Business Aviation AssociationBolen Testimony (107.67 KB)