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Secretary Ray LaHood Remarks as Prepared Senate Aerospace Caucus Luncheon Russell Senate Office Building, Kennedy Caucus Room

Thank you, Marion, for that wonderful introduction – and for your years of dedicated service to the FAA and America’s aviation industry.  Thank you, Senators Murray and Bond, for your leadership on behalf of the traveling public – and for hanging around to hear this former Congressman say a few words.  And thank you, all, for the invitation.

America’s skies are the safest in the world – and getting safer – in no small measure because of the people that the Aerospace Industries Association has brought together here.  So, on behalf of President Obama, thank you for your partnership in the pursuit of safety – our number one priority at the Department of Transportation.

You know, I’m mostly looking forward to having a conversation – to taking your questions and talking about your concerns.  But I thought I’d start by sharing a little about the view from 30,000 feet before we put rubber on the runway.

On my way in, I saw that the AIA released a new report, “Civil Aviation Growth in the 21st Century.”  I haven’t had a chance to review the document in its entirety, though I know you sent a draft over to the department.  But I do think it makes a compelling case that, during the next several decades, civil aviation faces at least two profound challenges:   First, how do we safely handle a dramatic increase in traffic?  And second, how do we safely handle a dramatic increase in traffic while also reducing aviation’s greenhouse gas emissions?

Now, prediction is, at best, an inexact science.  So if you’re hoping for a detailed description of what the aviation industry will look like in three decades, I’m going to disappoint you.  But what I do know for certain – and the message I want all of you to take away today – is that NextGen will be a big part of the solution to these two challenges and others. 

NextGen will make air travel safer.  It will make our tarmacs and skies less congested.  It will cut travel times and alleviate delays.  It will make the industry’s carbon footprint smaller.  And it will help the civil aviation sector – responsible for 11 million jobs and $1 trillion of economic activity – to become more efficient and competitive.

During the last 20 months, we’ve been hard at work laying groundwork for the transition to NextGen.  We’ve tested ADS-B capability in places ranging from the high-traffic airspace over Philadelphia to the Gulf of Mexico, where there’s little or no radar today.  We’ve demonstrated that surface surveillance and data-sharing technologies can measurably improve taxi times in Memphis and New York.  And, to keep us on track, we’ve created the NextGen Advisory Committee, which will hold its first meeting on September 23.

At the same time, of course, we’ve focused on a number of parallel initiatives to make flying safer and the aviation industry stronger.  One – Last week, we proposed a new rule that will provide pilots a better opportunity to get proper rest between flights.  My single worst day as Secretary of Transportation was February 12, 2009, when Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashed near Buffalo.  If adopted, this new regulation will help address issues of fatigue that surfaced in this tragedy’s aftermath.

Two – We put in place landmark consumer safety and protection regulations, which provide air travelers with basic rights when they fly.  Earlier this summer, we issued new rules limiting how much time passengers can sit in planes stuck on the tarmac.  Now, we’re proposing additional requirements that would increase compensation for passengers bumped from oversold flights; requirements that would enable customers to return tickets – for a full refund – within 24 hours of their purchase; and requirements that would make airlines reimburse baggage fees if they don’t deliver luggage on time. 

And three – Last spring, we launched the Future of Aviation Advisory Committee, a diverse group of experts that will make policy and regulatory recommendations.  At last November’s Future of Aviation Forum, we challenged many of you to select the top five issues in need of immediate attention. So the FAAC has started its work by keying on enhancing aviation safety, ensuring a world-class aviation workforce, balancing the industry’s competitiveness and viability, securing predictable funding, and addressing environmental challenges.

But, in all of this, we’re just getting started.  For one thing, President Obama made DOT a member of his “mini cabinet” to promote the National Export Initiative. We get it: Without transportation, there are no exports – and without aviation, our transportation system would be literally stuck on the ground.  You can rest assured that we’ll be a voice for aviation – the backbone of 21st century international commerce.

I’m sure you also saw, last week, that President Obama announced his vision for America’s new infrastructure plan.  He committed to rebuilding 150,000 miles of roads – enough to circle the Earth six times.  He committed to laying and maintaining 4,000 miles of track – some for transit, some for freight, some for high speed rail – enough to stretch from coast to coast.  And he committed to restoring 150 miles of runway and putting NextGen in place. 

As we speak, we’re working with the bipartisan leadership of Congress to iron out the details –  and, by the way, we haven’t let up in our push for FAA’s long-term reauthorization.  But we trust that any legislation will include new resources for technology in the cockpit; new resources to move from a national ground-based radar surveillance system to a more accurate satellite-based surveillance system; and a broader effort to increase fuel efficiency and cut airport noise for people who live and work near airports.  This is the future of aviation.

The plan will bring jobs to our economy now.  It will be fully paid for – without running up the deficit. And it will make a measurable and meaningful difference – not just in bringing the economy back from the brink, but also in laying the foundation for long-term, sustainable growth and prosperity.

To the members of congress in the room: we hope you’ll support it – and we’re eager to work with you to pass a bipartisan bill.  To everyone else: join us in explaining to your representatives exactly why this matters.  It’s an investment in aviation safety.  It’s an investment in economic opportunity and competitiveness.  It’s an investment in America’s future.

This isn’t about election year politics – or about pitting people on the left against people on the right.  It’s about whether our economy goes up or goes down.  It’s about whether we have a transportation system that moves us forward or one that holds us back.

I believe that, together, we’re laying the groundwork for progress – and getting America on the move once more.  Thank you for your hard work in that shared effort.  I’ll be happy to take your questions.

Updated: Wednesday, April 18, 2012
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