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The Future of Air Traffic Control: The R&D Agenda

Wednesday, March 29, 2006 - 12:00am
Washington, D.C.

Opening Statement By Hon. Mark Udall

Good afternoon. I want to join the Chairman in welcoming our witnesses.  Today’s hearing is focused on something that should be of interest to all of us - the future of the nation’s air transportation system.

As Members of Congress, we all spend a lot of time on airplanes, and we have a vested interest in safe and efficient air travel.

In addition, of course, the nation’s air transportation system is a vital part of our economy, and we need to ensure that it can accommodate future anticipated demand.

As you know, this Committee helped establish the interagency Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) in the 2003 VISION 100 Reauthorization Act.  We tasked JPDO with managing the development of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NGATS).  That’s a formidable task.

Today’s witnesses will give us an idea of what has been accomplished to date, as well as what challenges lie ahead.  Of course, some of the most critical challenges involve issues related to transitioning from the current Air Traffic Management system to the proposed future NGATS concept.

And that means transitioning to new hardware and software, equipping fleets of aircraft, addressing a range of workforce and training issues, and figuring out how it will be paid for.

It also appears that there is a significant R&D challenge to be met if the NGATS is to become a reality.  I’d like to hear more about that R&D challenge from our witnesses.

In particular, I want to better understand what is being done to identify the key research needs and align all of the agencies’ research programs to those needs - and to ensure that those research programs are relevant to the task.

That includes R&D directly related to the NGATS as well as R&D on such things as aircraft noise and emissions - problems that will have a big impact on community acceptance of increased airport operations.

Of course, the willingness of agencies to commit the necessary budgetary resources to the R&D tasks will be another key determinant of the success or failure of the JPDO.

In that regard, I am concerned that NASA is planning to cut its commitment to NGATS R&D in half over the next five years.  I hope that the witnesses will be able to help this Committee understand the likely impact of such a cut on the JPDO’s ability to meet the R&D challenges facing the NGATS.

And finally, there is the question of whether or not the existing JPDO structure will be sufficient for all that lies ahead, or whether it will need to evolve into a Program Office with its own budgetary authority.

Well, Mr. Chairman, we have a lot of issues to consider.  I hope that today’s hearing will be just the first step in a continuing process of oversight of the JPDO and NGATS by this Committee.

NGATS is too important to the nation’s future well-being for us to do otherwise.  To borrow a phrase from the space program: "Failure is not an option" as far as NGATS is concerned.  With that, I again want to welcome our witnesses, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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1 - Hon. Jeffrey Shane
Under Secretary for Policy Department of Transportation Department of Transportation
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3 - Bob Pearce
Director (acting) Joint Planning and Development Office Federal Aviation Administration Joint Planning and Development Office Federal Aviation Administration
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2 - Dr. Lisa Porter
Associate Administrator for Aeronautics Research National Aeronautics and Space Administration National Aeronautics and Space Administration
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6 - Gerald Dillingham
Director of Civil Aviation Issues Government Accountability Office Government Accountability Office
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5 - Mike Hudson
Vice Chairman (retired), Rolls-Royce North America Chair, Committee on Technology Pathways; Assessing the Integrated Plan for NGATS Chair, Committee on Technolo
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4 - David Dobbs
Assistant Inspector General for Aviation and Special Projects Department of Transportation Department of Transportation
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Link to Government Printing Office PDF file Link to text version Link to text version with speaker index
Serial 109-42
109th Congress