NEWSCLIP-2002-02-12: Statement of Charles Keegan, Director, Operational Evolution Plan

February 12, 2002

Statement of Charles Keegan, Director, Operational Evolution Plan*

Before the Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry on Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry

Chairman Walker, Commissioners. Thank you for this opportunity to address the FAA’s coordinated approach with the aviation community on the future of our industry.

*Charles Keegan serves as Vice President for Operations Planning at The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) . Mr. Keegan serves as a Director of the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO), the interagency organization developing the long-term plan for the Next Generation Air Transport System. He also serves as a Member of Management Council of Next Generation Air Transportation System Institute. He is responsible for both the short- and near-term planning for … the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization (ATO) as well as the longer-term planning for the JPDO. He served as Director of airspace management, strategic development and homeland security at Raytheon Co. since February 2006. Before becoming JPDO Director, Keegan served as Vice President for En Route and Oceanic Operations in the ATO. Earlier, before the formation of the ATO, Keegan was FAA Associate Administrator for Research and Acquisition, the agency’s top research and development post. [source: this bio was presented as an ‘Executive Profile, listed under ‘Raytheon’, at; copied 3/30/14]You asked me to address four specific areas:

  1. Expected results of the Operational Evolution Plan, that is, the OEP
  2. Contribution of new airports/runways in increasing system capacity
  3. Key challenges for Operational Evolution Plan
  4. Assessment of what will follow Operational Evolution Plan

The Environment

First of all, let me set the stage. American aviation was forever changed by the horrific terrorism we suffered on September 11 and the subsequent national security precautions taken. The economic impact of the air transportation shutdown rippled from airports and airlines to hospitality and tourism. Shock waves reverberated through countless industries structured on just-in-time methods interwoven by air cargo.

These tragic events highlighted the vital role that the aviation industry now plays in the economic and social framework of our nation. Aviation enthusiasts have known this for decades – now, every American understands.

Recognizing the critical threat to our homeland, Congress has enacted legislation to assist the airline industry and strengthen aviation security. These efforts will have a high priority in the FAA’s agenda as we work to restore confidence in America’s air transportation system. But this heightened emphasis on security must complement rather than divert us from our mission priorities of safety and ATC modernization.

History has shown that today’s aviation slowdown is temporary. As our economy recovers, the demand for air travel will increase. With this demand will come the potential for a return to the capacity problems that plagued our skies during the summer of 2000.

Prior to September 11, the National Airspace System, also know as the “NAS”, handled 1.9 million passengers, 40 thousand tons of cargo, and 60 thousand flights through the system daily. Demand at the busiest airports and congested airspace led to delays and a lack of efficiency, flexibility, and predictability throughout the NAS

Recognizing the continuing need for capacity improvements, the FAA is moving forward. While some priorities have shifted in light of recent events, and changing economics have forced some delays in equipage and new technologies, traffic and demand are already on the rebound and expected to reach previously projected levels. We are staying the course to build an aviation system for the 21st century.

Expected Results of OEP

For a longer-term solution to our capacity and delay problems, we have developed the Operational Evolution Plan (OEP). The plan was released on June 6 after achieving consensus with the aviation industry in its development.

The OEP represents the FAA’s and industry’s commitment to safely meet the air transportation needs of the United States over the next decade. The plan focuses on increasing capacity, managing delays, and maintaining the excellent safety record of the system. It integrates and aligns the agency’s activities with those of the aviation industry and users of the system. Agreement among the airlines, other system users, and airports is critical to the success of the OEP.


The OEP is a dynamic, comprehensive and integrated picture of all of FAA’s capacity enhancement initiatives and goals that can be achieved and committed to by the year 2010. The document will change as new innovations and technologies are implemented and others emerge. The document accommodates FAA’s current practice of soliciting ideas and new technologies that could improve the efficient and safe movement of air traffic and/or increase NAS capacity.

The OEP includes these technologies even if the technologies would not be viable within 10 years but which the community can commit to on key decisions during that time. As new innovations and technologies become mature and can be implemented showing capacity and efficiency improvements, they may become part of the plan.

OEP commitments include changes in technology, airspace design, airport infrastructure and new or modified procedures for aircraft crew members, airline operations personnel, FAA and DOD controllers, traffic flow management specialists, and maintenance specialists.

The DOD participates in the overall process in order to facilitate their needs as one of the system’s largest customers. The DoD is an integral partner in the provision of services. The DoD and the FAA enjoy a long history of federal partnership established in public law. This continuing partnership is reflected in the OEP and associated actions.


Let me give you a snapshot of our successes to date, and then I’ll back up and talk to process so that you understand how we get where we’re going.

Detroit has a new runway. It became operational on schedule and is providing an additional 15-25% arrival and departure capacity. The Traffic Management Advisor, part of the Free Flight Phase 1 program is operational at 7 major hub locations yielding 3-5% increase in arrival capacity. Eleven new sectors have been implemented in the most congested areas of the en route airspace resulting in 20-30% reduction in delays. Significant progress has been made in the area of collaborative decision making resulting in a 10% drop in delays over similar weather days in 2000. And the User Request Evaluation Tool is operational at 4 en route centers, allows air traffic controllers to look ahead for other traffic as much as 20 minutes. The new system is racking up fuel savings of nearly $1M per month per site.

All of that is foundation to the OEP’s anticipated goal of 700-800 more flights in the air at a given time during normal operating hours, about a 30 percent increase from today.


The development of the OEP was a coordinated effort within the FAA and collaboration with the airlines, airports, and other members of the aviation community.

The plan calls for changes in how aircraft operate to better utilize available capacity; a redesign of the airspace to accommodate greater numbers of aircraft while maintaining safety; deployment of new technology to increase flexibility; construction of new runways; and new procedures to improve management and mitigation of delays.

The OEP represents a fundamental change in our approach to integrated planning. It sets achievable goals that build one upon the other for long-term success. It is a natural extension of the FAA’s approach to modernization, that of evolution rather than revolution. It is all about commitment, accountability, and then delivering on the promise. The commitments and decisions in the OEP emerged from consensus with the leaders of the aviation community. That coordination continues. The OEP is outcome-driven with clear lines of accountability within and between FAA organizations.

While we at the FAA are making certain commitments, the OEP will require the users of the airspace to make significant investments in avionics equipment and pilot training for this effort in expanding system capacity. That is why we have worked so diligently in getting industry support for the OEP.

Contribution of New Runways in Increasing System Capacity

Having talked about expected results of the Operational Evolution Plan, I’ll address your question on the impact of new runways.

The United States has 546 airports with commercial airline service. Yet, the nation’s 31 busiest airports, that is to say fewer than 6 percent of our nation’s commercial airports, account for 70 percent of the passenger traffic. Each one of these 31 airports is expected to experience even greater demand.

There are definitive plans for new runways for 14 airports that provide significant capacity increases. In some cases greater than 50% capacity increase is achieved. NAS-wide we project a 12.7% capacity increase of the total use of the 14 new runways. Some airports with high capacity configurations at their disposal today have a lower percentage of capacity increase from new runways.

New runways and new technology are not the sum of the OEP. The economy, the environment, the ability to collaborate, and the desire to change to achieve objectives, all drive the success of the OEP.

Key Challenges for OEP

Impact of recent events

The National Airspace System is undergoing rapid changes caused by a slowdown in the economy resulting in changes to passenger demand left from September 11. The OEP is a community plan that requires planning, actions, and investments by all stakeholders, stakeholders driven by economics. It relies significantly on the premise of voluntary avionics equipage by system users in order to gain significant benefits. This voluntary premise requires a strong business case for such investment and the appropriate economics in order to implement the business case. Many of the longer-term research programs currently lack the strong business case required for voluntary equipage in a post-9/11 economy.

A complicating factor is the timing of the economic recovery for the aviation industry. It is both unknown and variable for all of the NAS users. The conditions need to be clear and well understood in order for mutual investments to proceed. It is important to note that the investments for an improved and capable air traffic system must be synchronized for government and industry alike.

There are more than 100 separate programs within the OEP, each aggressively addressing capacity problems. The scope of the changes is at times overwhelming. The government and industry bandwidth required for implementation will strain primary and supporting processes at each step.

In recent years, important collaborative relationships have been established that have changed the way we do business. Building on these relationships is the only way the long and short-term capacity challenges of the National Airspace System can be met.

These challenges, and the various technical details, are being worked through consensus with all of the aviation stakeholders. The FAA is using all of its collaborative resources in this effort especially its Federal Advisory Board and the RTCA to facilitate and mitigate the risks of OEP implementation.

One of our key partnerships is with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. For the future, key portions of the OEP reflect our partnership with NASA. NASA’s contribution to modernization includes a leadership role in long-term aviation research.

NASA provides crucial research and development of future air traffic management technologies. FAA and NASA jointly develop advanced air traffic control support tools, improve training efficiency and enhance safety through human factors research, and develop and test advanced communications, navigation and surveillance systems.

NASA’s role is to perform research, development, and verification and transfer activities upon technologies with advanced potential for improving the NAS and to assist in the transition of those technologies.

The FAA’s complementary role is to prepare these identified technologies for introduction into the NAS. We are working on technologies that will help with the flow of aircraft, including high altitude aircraft, into busy airports and will provide a flexible surface management system that will reduce arrival and departure delays and inefficiencies due to surface issues and other restrictions. These are just two of many examples of next generation technologies being worked on.

Assessment of What Will Follow OEP

A vision of the future accompanied by leadership and capital investment will help shape how air traffic is managed in 10, 20 or 30 years. Even the most innovative technologies and procedures will only succeed with effective communication, collaboration, and cooperation throughout the aviation industry. In its leadership role the FAA is facilitating the development and implementation of future air traffic management technologies and procedures. Our objectives are to maximize the capacity and improve the safety of our busy and complex airspace.

The aviation community’s Operational Evolution Plan is the guide for evolutionary modernization. It sustains current NAS operations, while new technologies and procedures are introduced and then gradually expanded, in a plan to meet system safety needs and improve services to the users.

These changes are evolutionary to allow a smooth transition from one technology to another, sufficient time for users to equip, and realistic schedules for service providers to test, train, and deliver services demanded by the flying public.

Not a Panacea

Technology has always played a role in maintaining commercial aviation’s impressive safety record. However, new technology is not a panacea and must be deployed judiciously. The wrong technologies, employed in the wrong ways, could cause more problems than they solve. In addition, sometimes a technology that is helpful in getting an aircraft from point A to point B may not work smoothly when integrated into the overall system.

The FAA has turned the corner on its ability to modernize. The successful formula is through collaboration and consensus and via evolution. This is the foundation of the OEP, and will continue to be the formula the FAA uses in its modernization efforts.

Evolving to a Revolution

Modernization through evolution is by definition slow. Real change that requires human factors will yield high benefits but experience has taught us that the process cannot be rushed.

There is, however, a huge, revolutionary, potential to solve our capacity problems – information sharing and collaborative decision making or CDM. CDM both as a process and capital investment program, represent the single most lucrative area in our efforts to increase capacity.

From September 1998 to September 2001, the Collaborative Decision Making process has reduced delays by more than 20-million minutes. It has become the cornerstone for tactical and strategic air traffic management that the FAA employs today. It utilizes several specific program elements, each of which already has a mutual investment by the nation’s commercial operators. But with all the incredible gains within this context, the constraints prevent the potential of even greater gain.

There are impediments that can be removed that represent fundamental changes in the way the system operates. And these more revolutionary changes can work in concert with collaboration and consensus.

To overcome the constraints we need your help. Much of the information sharing that would enable airlines to make use of existing capacity is disallowed under current interpretation of antitrust regulation. While this applies to private discussions between large operators, it should be possible for the FAA to facilitate such an exchange that would ensure competition and optimize operations.

Let me give you an example. Delays were reduced at Atlanta by 20% when Delta, the dominant carrier, modified their schedule to smooth congestion caused by peek period demand.

In order to get similar benefits at other cities, where schedules must optimize a wide variety of operations, we must develop a comprehensive, well articulated, secure Aviation Information Sharing Policy and Architecture. The goal of this architecture is to provide tools that, in addition to optimal scheduling, support: Distributed Economic Decision Making, Efficient Collaborative Processes, and Incentives for Quality Participation.

We need your help in enabling public policy that allows us to more readily explore and develop the potential in this untapped resource.

Let me take a moment to expand on each of those Aviation Information Sharing Policy and Architecture themes.

Distributed Economic Decision Making

We talk about economic decisions, but there is no mandate commanding that decisions which are economic in nature, not safety or security related, should be made by the system providers, not by the service provider. So we would distribute economic decision making to system providers, but we’d have to define that class of decisions that are economic and modify procedures accordingly. For example, does an aircraft take a delay on the ground or burn more fuel to fly an alternate route, but take off on time.

Efficient Collaborative Processes

Measures of efficiency are collaborative since they have to account for the movement of passengers and goods. Efficiency can only be accurately measured in concert with system operators. Service providers do not have the insight on impacts on the movement of passengers and goods necessary for meaningful performance measurement. All of that means moving away from our current pilot-controller paradigm into a more comprehensive, systems view requiring a collaborative process.

Incentives for Quality Participation

The rules of engagement, i.e. system operators’ responsibilities, must provide incentives and disincentives. An incentive for example would apply to providing quality intent information. A disincentive would result from not releasing an arrival slot early enough for another carrier to use it, resulting in wasted capacity.

Clearly, such a policy must also address the protection of proprietary information submitted by system operators. Using appropriate security methods, the architecture will enable broad access to historical, real-time or predictive information via open systems and protocols.

An information sharing architecture will extend the “common situational awareness” that is the foundation of today’s CDM tool. This increased awareness will enable system operators to measure equity, to understand how FAA systems interact, and to predict delays and other impacts on their operations. Although this information is available today, it is embedded in numerous disparate systems where access is a bureaucratic obstacle course.

Collaborative Decision Making, both as a process and a capital investment program, represents a highly lucrative area that the FAA and the community can pursue for increasing capacity and reducing delays.

Thank you for this opportunity to talk about our progress in addressing the challenges of capacity and delay in the National Airspace System.

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copied 3/30/14 from: