Tag Archives: Byron Dorgan

Senators put Randy Babbitt in the hot seat

In his confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, FAA Administrator-designate Randy Babbitt got a taste of the challenges coming his way. By the looks of it, Babbitt has broad support and should be confirmed without any real trouble, but the Senators’ questions were telling in their own right. Some examples:

Sen. Frank Lautenberg on the NY/NJ airspace redesign: “Would you hold the implementation of the airspace redesign project until you see that the interested parties, who have value to contribute, will be included?”

Lautenberg on tower staffing: “If confirmed, can you assure us that the Newark tower will be staffed to the volume of performance that we require there?”

Sen. Johnny Isakson: “What are you going to do to expedite the next generation and the FAA, technology-wise?”

Sen. Byron Dorgan on standards among regional carriers: “Mr. Babbitt, how could they be enforced if you put a co-pilot on a plane flying into Buffalo, New York in the winter with icing who says on the cockpit recorder, ‘I’ve never flown in icing and am very nervous about this.’ That cannot possibly be a standard that is enforced by the FAA.”

Randy Babbitt’s prepared remarks are here, and the full Q&A transcript is here. You can also view the video webcast here.

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Newly fashionable: complaining about lack of NextGen progress

Feeling impatient about the pace of ATC modernization? Apparently, you’ve got plenty of company. The griping began at the recent Senate hearings on NextGen, with opening remarks coming from subcommittee Chairman Byron Dorgan:

We need to make progress. Some are talking about NextGen 2020, 2025. In my judgment, that’s a pace that is too slow. We need to make substantially more progress at a much better pace than that. [..] This is not some ’20 years from now’ sci-fi application.

Later in the hearing, Dorgan directed a particular criticism at what he considers to be stakeholder infighting:

You all work for the same team, paid by the same taxpayers. All of us are tired of delay, and we’re tired of some of the battles that go on.

Not to be outdone, Sen. Jay Rockefeller brought home the same point in his prepared statement:

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.  [..]

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.

This was just the beginning. Later in the hearing, Rockefeller followed up:

I, like Chairman Dorgan, am very intense about this subject.  And I’m kind of tired of talking about it. Everything that the President talks about, that is — carbon release, wasted time, damage to the economy, frustrated people, people not having reason to have confidence in their government, etc. — all comes together in not having NextGen, NowGen, whatever you want to call it. Some people are using the excuse that we don’t have the money for it. I consider that to be way off the mark. We have to do this and we have to do it right away. So my question to you is: why are we so slow?

Answers were thin on ground, but these remarks appear to have opened the door for others to go on record with their frustrations. United Airlines CEO and ATA Chairman Glenn Tilton gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal on Friday, in which he returned to the issue of how transportation stimulus funds were allocated.

“While it makes sense that projects need to be ‘shovel-ready’ to help these efforts in 2009, they must have to be ‘next generation’ to sustain future growth in the years ahead,” Mr. Tilton said. “Why then is rapid rail in the stimulus package for some $9 billion and for NextGen, zero?”

In an interview, Mr. Tilton said he doesn’t know why the project wasn’t included in the stimulus package. “Perhaps the absence of an FAA administrator left the project without an advocate,” he said. “If there were to be a second stimulus package, I and the ATA board would make a compelling case for NextGen inclusion.”

When the White House appoints a new FAA administrator, a step expected very soon, the new FAA chief should try to bring the timetable for the ATC system forward and “front-load the benefits,” Mr. Tilton said. “What can we do promptly with technology available today? It should be now-gen rather than next-gen.”

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Unmanned Aircraft Systems get boost in North Dakota

From the Grand Forks (ND) Herald:

Opening more North Dakota airspace to unmanned aircraft will now be a priority for the Federal Aviation Administration, one of the agency’s top officials said Monday in Grand Forks.

By summer 2010, the agency should have a solution in place, said Hank Krakowski, the chief operating officer in charge of air traffic control.
He was accompanied by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Gov. John Hoeven, who convened a meeting of key government and military leaders at UND to talk about the airspace issue.
[..] Asked if, after 2010, unmanned aircraft would have the same freedom as manned aircraft, Krakowski was cautious. “We want (unmanned aerial vehicles) to be able to do their missions.”

[..] Last week, Dorgan became the chairman of the commerce subcommittee on aviation, the Senate body where all legislation pertaining to the FAA starts.

This was the jackpot for the local effort to turn Grand Forks into a center for unmanned aircraft operations and research, according to a business leader involved.

Dorgan said he’s particularly interested in modernizing the nation’s air traffic control infrastructure, which would make it easier for unmanned aircraft to operate with manned aircraft.

While modern unmanned aircraft have sophisticated sensors that can spot man-sized targets from high in the air in the dark of night, the FAA is concerned that remote pilots won’t be able to look around them and see imminent collisions as easily as pilots of manned aircraft.

This concern wouldn’t exist if all aircraft were directed by air traffic controllers. But many private aircraft operate at low altitude and outside the purview of the FAA. It is the risk of colliding with those aircraft that has made the FAA hesitate.

“That’s the crux of the problem,” Krakowski said.

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