NEWSCLIP-1998-03-12: Congressional Testimony by Dennis DeGaetano (FAA R,E&D)

STATEMENT OF DENNIS DEGAETANO, ACTING ASSOCIATE ADMINISTRATOR FOR RESEARCH AND ACQUISITIONS, FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION, BEFORE THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON SCIENCE, SUBCOMMITTEE ON TECHNOLOGY, CONCERNING THE FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION’S FISCAL YEAR 1999 R,E&D BUDGET REQUEST, INCLUDING THE FLIGHT 2000 OPERATIONAL EVALUATION PROGRAM, MARCH 12, 1998.

Madam Chair and Members of the Subcommittee:

I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the fiscal year 1999 budget request for the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Research, Engineering and Development (R,E&D) activities. I also want to thank all the Members of this Subcommittee for your support of the FAA’s research and development programs. It has enabled us to advance important projects that will enhance the safety, capacity, and efficiency of our aviation system.

For Fiscal Year 1999, the FAA is requesting a total of $290 million for our R,E&D program. This request represents a 46 percent increase from the Fiscal Year 1998 enacted level of $199.2 million. Our request for $90 million for the agency’s new Flight 2000 program accounts for most of this increase, and in accordance with the Committee’s request, I would like to use the bulk of my time discussing this program. I would also like to mention briefly the FAA’s R&D partnerships with other government agencies, industry, and academia, and then highlight some lessons we have learned in human factors analysis through our recent experience with the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System, known as STARS.

FLIGHT 2000

Activities at FAA air traffic facilities are expected to grow from 1.5 to 2 percent annually over the next 12 years. We must update the current airspace infrastructure and management in order to be able to handle this increase. Advances in communications, navigation, and surveillance technology, along with innovative air traffic management procedures, provide us with the means to handle this growth. At the same time, it will mean changing the focus of the current air traffic management system from an exclusively ground-based command-and-control system to a more flexible management system in which controllers and pilots share responsibilities.

The modernization of the National Airspace System (NAS) will be demonstrated through the Flight 2000 program. Flight 2000 will provide a limited, real-world, operational evaluation of the procedures, technologies, and human factors involved in Free Flight. Free Flight is an air traffic management concept that greatly increases users’ flexibility to plan and fly their preferred routes. The potential benefits of Free Flight include fuel and time savings and a more efficient use of airspace. The Free Flight concept was developed through an industry-government partnership and is the basis for the NAS “architecture” or plan for the future development of the NAS system. It is based on the premise that, with new technologies and innovative procedures, we can remove many of the restrictions of today’s air traffic control system, and make the system more flexible for users. With upgraded systems, we will be able to provide these services safely and more efficiently than we do now.

The purpose of Flight 2000 is to provide early proof, through an operational evaluation–a “dress rehearsal,” if you will–in a geographically limited area, of all the factors which make up Free Flight including the procedures, technologies, and human factors that will work together in a real world environment. Until now, the FAA, airlines, and aviation equipment manufacturers have evaluated the Free Flight concept mostly through modeling and simulation. Already through procedural changes in the National Route Program, we are allowing participating aircraft to fly direct, point-to-point routes, cutting flight times and saving millions of dollars annually in reduced fuel costs.

Flight 2000 will transfer the Free Flight concept to the real world. By “shaking down” the technological systems and procedures before their national deployment, FAA will be able to deploy and integrate systems more quickly, at lower cost, and with lower risk.

Under the Flight 2000 program, approximately 2000 aircraft would be equipped with a new generation of avionics that will give pilots information which will allow them to operate in the system with more flexibility and in closer collaboration with air traffic controllers. Flight 2000 will involve all classes of airspace users operating in all phases of flight operations and surface movement. In the FAA’s Air Route Traffic Control Center in Oakland, CA, the oceanic conflict probe and data communications services will be improved and evaluated to support the demonstration.

Examples of the on-board systems that will be tested in Flight 2000 include Automatic Dependent Surveillance/Broadcast, or ADS-B, which provides cockpit display of air traffic information derived from global positioning (GPS) satellites directly to pilots. Through data link, other critical flight information on weather, terrain, and other obstacles will also be transmitted directly to the cockpit. In addition, GPS receivers will allow pilots to navigate point-to-point direct routes in the enroute system and provide them approach guidance to runways as well as more flexible arrival and departure routes.

Each of these technologies has been tested separately in the laboratory or in a staged environment, but Flight 2000 gives us the opportunity to evaluate them all together in a real, live operational environment. We need to do this prior to deployment of these technologies on a system-wide scale. Otherwise, we run the risk of significant delays and cost increases. Human capabilities and training of pilots and air traffic controllers are primary considerations in the Flight 2000 implementation plan and schedule. Flight 2000 will have safety certification activities being considered for the systems under evaluation, at the same time as operating procedures and other factors, so that the technology is ready to use when it is ultimately deployed to sites across the country.

This approach is particularly useful when there are a significant numbers of unknowns, as is the case of the NAS architecture, which involves new technologies and significantly changing roles for controllers and pilots. An internal assessment at the FAA indicates that Flight 2000 would cut the technical, operational, schedule and cost risks of national deployment significantly.

We envision Flight 2000 as a five-year program, beginning in fiscal year 1999 and ending in fiscal year 2003. Approximately 44 percent of the total costs would be for the development and acquisition of the avionics to be used in the demonstration. With adequate funding starting in FY 1999, the first three years of the program will focus on assessing safety and human factors issues; developing, acquiring and installing integrated sets of aircraft avionics; installing the ground infrastructure at the demonstration sites; and developing new operational procedures based on controller and pilot simulations. After this development period, we plan that Flight 2000 will have an initial operational capability in April 2002.

Once equipped aircraft are operating, Flight 2000 will collect data and start the analysis to resolve many of the challenging operational issues associated with applying advanced air traffic communications and navigational technology to the NAS. Hawaii and Alaska have been selected as evaluation sites because they offer a controlled environment with an appropriate fleet size and mix, plus a wide range of weather and terrain conditions. Under current plans, all data collection and analysis will be completed by 2004.

We have developed an “Initial Program Plan” for Flight 2000 through a collaborative effort involving the FAA, NASA, DOD and industry. We will continue this collaboration with key stakeholders through the RTCA’s Free flight Select Committee during the evolution of the Flight 2000 demonstration. Involvement of the aviation community in developing Flight 2000 is essential. The goal is to have all participating users realize the benefits of NAS modernization and help in the development, integration, and validation of improvements.

Finally, I want to assure you that current NAS modernization projects and activities will not be compromised by the addition of Flight 2000. Rather, Flight 2000 provides an opportunity to accelerate modernization by reaching early consensus with users on the future NAS.

FAA R&D PARTNERSHIPS

I would like to turn now to the FAA’s R&D partnerships. With the R&D program comprising just 2 percent of the FAA’s total budget, leveraging the FAA’s scarce research and development funds through partnerships has become an integral part of the way we do business.

This strategic network now includes over 500 partnerships with colleges and universities, industry, other government agencies, and international civil aviation authorities. In addition, by the end of fiscal year 1998, the FAA will have initiated more than 100 cooperative research and development agreements with private industry under the auspices of the Technology Transfer program. New and continuing research grants totaling $47 million were awarded during the fiscal year, bringing to $195 million the amount of research grants awarded since the grants program began in 1992. And, four Centers of Excellence are now in operation–conducting important work in computation modeling, airport pavement, operations, and airworthiness research. The Center of Excellence for Airworthiness Research, for example, includes more than 100 industry and university affiliates and laboratories.

Not only do these R&D partnerships provide access to fields of expertise, special test equipment, and fresh ideas, they help guard against duplication of effort and overlap. Our long-term partnership with NASA is a good example of this. FAA and NASA collaborate on a variety of projects and are working together under some 25 separate memoranda of understanding or agreements on topics ranging from wake vortex and human factors to air traffic automation and airworthiness research. This partnership is overseen by a FAA-NASA Coordinating Committee, co-chaired by senior FAA and NASA executives at the Associate Administrator level.

Most notably, last year, FAA and NASA established a new Partnership in Aviation Safety to focus on investments in research that will lead to technologies that best promote aviation safety and can be implemented rapidly. NASA has committed to provide approximately $500 million of existing funds over the next five years, augmenting the FAA’s on-going investment in safety research.

This arrangement works very well, with both agencies committed to building a fully integrated aviation safety program. The FAA is involved in the planning of how the NASA funds are invested, allowing us to leverage these resources to address the most critical safety issues. As an indication of how well this partnership is working, the FAA has transferred a representative from the FAA’s Office of Aviation Research to NASA Langley’s Research Center to serve as the deputy to the NASA Manager of the Aviation Safety Program.

Likewise in the area of air traffic management research, FAA and NASA have also been working together successfully for almost two decades. For example, NASA developed the Center-TRACON Automation System (CTAS), which is an advanced decision-support software that, for example, helps controllers make better decisions on sequencing aircraft into the terminal area. This provides user benefits by safely increasing terminal capacity

Three years ago, the two agencies established an interagency R&D Air Traffic Management Product Team to strengthen coordination between the two air traffic management programs and to prevent overlap. In September 1996, the integrated product team published the first integrated plan for Air Traffic Management Research and Technology Development.

HUMAN FACTORS RESEARCH

I want to mention briefly the human factors lessons we learned from our experience with the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS). Our experience with STARS has taught us an important lesson in human factors: users of the equipment must be actively involved in the development of new systems from beginning to end. Since last October, the FAA has worked closely with the unions to solve most of the human factors issues involved with STARS. For example, we identified the problem of an opaque window used to provide certain information on controller computer displays that could obscure potentially critical safety data, and have outlined a specific, acceptable fix. This collaboration is an important step forward for the FAA and the unions in working together on human factors issues. MITRE’s Center for Advanced Aviation System Development (CAASD) played an important role in this effort.

Based on this effort, the FAA has formed a Human Factors Working Group. Members of the Working Group represent the FAA, unions, and industry. We now have in place a process to identify, monitor, and resolve human factors issues throughout the entire acquisition process so that these issues do not arise unexpectedly late in a program.

Before concluding, I would like to recognize the role the FAA’s R,E&D Advisory Committee plays in helping to set research priorities and shape the agency’s research plans. You will be hearing directly from Mr. Ralph Eschenback, Chairman of the Committee, today, but I want to acknowledge the support and valuable guidance that the R,E&D Committee has provided to Flight 2000 and other research investments aimed at facilitating the transition to Free Flight.

Madam Chair, let me close by saying that, with the assistance of this Subcommittee, I believe the FAA has a solid research program covering a variety of critical areas–from explosive/weapons detection, to weather, aircraft structures, noise mitigation and satellite navigation. The fiscal year 1999 budget request we are discussing here today will allow us to build on that success and do the critical research to support the national airspace system for the next century.

I would be happy to answer any questions you and the other Members might have.