Committee Clears Legislation Reauthorizing R&D Programs at FAA
(Washington, DC) – Bolstering research and development within the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Members of the Science and Technology Committee today cleared legislation reauthorizing existing programs within the agency and establishing several new research initiatives.
The measure, H.R. 2698, the Federal Aviation Research and Development Reauthorization Act of 2007, was passed by the Space & Aeronautics Subcommittee last week. The bill is aimed at improving the safety, capacity and efficiency of the nation’s air transportation system to meet expected air traffic demands of the future.
A key feature of H.R. 2698 is a set of provisions to strengthen the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO), which is charged with planning and developing the Next Generation Air Transportation System, (NextGen). NextGen is envisioned as a major redesign of the current air transportation system, which is increasingly inefficient and near capacity. NextGen would entail precision satellite navigation; digital, networked communications; an integrated aviation weather system; layered, adaptive security and more.
“This bill takes a major step toward strengthening both the authority and the accountability of JPDO, because it’s success or failure is going to determine in large measure whether or not the nation will have a safe and efficient air traffic management system in the future,” said Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), a bill sponsor.
H.R. 2698 includes provisions that require:
Each participating agency or department to identify a senior official to be in charge of its activities in support of the NextGen initiative;
An integrated plan with date-specific timetables for implementation of NextGen capabilities;
OMB to coordinate each agency or department’s budget in support of the NextGen initiative;
JPDO to develop contingency plans for dealing with degradation of the NextGen system due to a natural disaster, major equipment failure, or act of terrorism.
“The bill authorizes a total of $1.88 billion in R&D spending over four years. While this number may appear to some to be fairly substantial, when compared to overall spending requested by the FAA, R&D funding is about 3.5% of the agency’s annual spending,” said Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX). “This is an extraordinarily small amount for an organization as heavily dependent on maintaining a national network of communications, navigation and surveillance technologies as is FAA.”
“H.R. 2698 will help ensure that the FAA has the tools it needs to keep the nation’s air transportation system safe, efficient, and environmentally friendly,” said Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chair Mark Udall (D-CO), who introduced the bill.
The bill authorizes $1.88 billion for the FAA’s R&D programs for fiscal years 2008-2011 and it would require the FAA to work with NASA and the U.S. Climate Change Science Program to establish a research initiative on the impact of aviation on the climate. It also establishes research programs on runway materials; design for certification, impact of space weather on aviation, and technologies for use of unleaded aviation gas in existing piston aircraft engines. Finally, the bill establishes an undergraduate research grant program in FAA-related research areas.
“This bill provides significant resources and direction to the FAA, but it is clear that FAA can not do it alone,” Gordon said. “NASA, in particular, has an important R&D role to play and that is something that the Committee will devote more attention to as we start work on reauthorizing NASA later in this Congress.”
The Committee adopted three amendments to H.R. 2698 today:
An amendment offered by Chairman Gordon making technical and clarifying changes;
An amendment offered by Rep. Ben Chandler (D-KY) requiring the National Research Council to carry out an independent review of FAA’s aviation safety-related research programs;
An amendment offered by Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT) adding noise pollution to the list of concerns to be considered when establishing environmental goals for NextGen.
“The nation's air transportation system is critical to our economic well-being, our international competitiveness, and our quality of life,” Udall said. “I believe that this bill will keep the FAA’s R&D enterprise healthy and productive.”
The Committee also cleared H.Res. 487, Recognizing the contribution of modeling and simulation technology to the security and prosperity of the United States, and recognizing modeling and simulation as a National Critical Technology.
The measure, authored by Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA), recognizes the important role of modeling and simulation technologies as well as the thousands of Americans who have worked to develop them. Such technology has played a significant role in U.S. government, industry and academy ranging from increasing the quality and reducing the cost of health care to forecasting weather and predicting climate change to expanding the understanding of nuclear chain reactions during the Manhattan Project.
“For training purposes, modeling and simulation places people in an artificial – but seemingly real – environment and puts them through their paces. But unlike ‘live’ training, if you make a mistake, you get to live another day and learn valuable lessons,” said Space and Aeronautics Ranking Member Tom Feeney (R-FL). “An inestimable number of lives have been saved that otherwise might have been lost in training accidents while improving the overall quality of training.”