DOT Secretary Views On “The Future of Aviation In America”


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DOT Secretary Views On “The Future of Aviation In America

January 31, 2011 - On Wednesday of last week, Department of Transportation, Secretary Ray LaHood spoke at the Aero Club of Washington, DC Annual Luncheon on “The Future of Aviation in America”. Below are his remarks.

Good afternoon. Thank you, Monte [Belger], for the introduction and congratulations on your new gig.  We look forward to working with you.  Before we get too far along, let me also say to Lisa [Piccione]:  On behalf of President Obama and the U.S. Department of Transportation, thank you for your extraordinary service to the Aero Club and the traveling public.

I must say, last night was very exciting for all of us. We heard President Obama talk about what it will take for America’s economy to grow and compete – and about the critical importance of America’s transportation infrastructure for Americans’ economic security and opportunity. 

I also found myself thinking about the state of America’s aviation industry.  And it occurred to me that if we were to draft and deliver a “state of our skies” address, it would have to include this simple and powerful fact: They’re the safest they’ve ever been.  They’re getting safer all the time.  But we will not rest on our laurels.  Safety will always be our number one priority. 

The safety – the safe and strong state – of American aviation is a credit to each of you. You’re sure doing something right. It’s a credit to the hard work of the technicians, pilots, air traffic controllers.  It’s a credit to so many others who make America’s aviation industry the world’s envy and example. 

Still, there’s no doubt that we face our share of challenges. For one thing, we need to get the FAA’s reauthorization done this year. I’ve met with Speaker Boehner and Transportation Chairman Mica. My DOT colleagues and I believe that the House of Representatives is primed to get this legislation passed and onto the president’s desk expeditiously – even in these tough fiscal times. 

For another thing, we need to keep working, fighting, and building to secure prosperity for ourselves and for future generations of Americans. There’s no question that the economy we preside over today is stronger than it was two years ago.  It’s growing again instead of shrinking; it’s creating jobs rather than shedding them. But we’re just getting started because too many of our family members, friends, and neighbors who want jobs can’t find them – because America can’t compete and flourish in the 21st century with overburdened and obsolete roadways, railways, and runways.


We’ve all heard the prediction that air travel is expected to grow 50 percent during the next decade. This dramatic challenge also provides enormous opportunity for the industry, if we plan and invest for it now. And while we can’t know with precision what air travel will look like during the years and decades ahead, we do know that NextGen is the future. 

Look: in some ways, the technology we have in our cars is more up to date than the technology we have in our cockpits.  By retrofitting aircraft and air traffic control centers with ADS-B, advanced communications systems, real-time weather reports, and other technologies, NextGen will make air travel safer and our tarmacs and skies less congested. It will cut travel times and alleviate delays.  It will make the industry’s carbon footprint smaller. It will help the civil aviation sector, responsible for 11 million jobs and $1 trillion of economic activity, to become more efficient and competitive. 

During the last two years, DOT has been hard at work laying groundwork for the transition to NextGen.  We’ve tested ADS-B capability in places ranging from the high-traffic airspace over Philadelphia to the Gulf of Mexico. We’ve demonstrated that surface surveillance and data-sharing technologies can measurably improve taxi times in Memphis and New York. And companies like Southwest are equipping their planes, training their pilots, and putting in place new procedures, which, in Southwest’s case, could eventually save $60 million every year. 

Now, in order for other airlines to reap similar long-term benefits, they’ll need to make similar up-front investments. That’s why we’re particularly excited about the tax legislation that President Obama signed into law before the holiday break. 

From watching the news, you might think that the tax package was only about extending tax cuts. But there’s a lot more to it. In fact, the new law provides businesses with the largest temporary investment incentive in American history: 100 percent expensing of eligible capital investments for one year. 

What does this mean for the airline industry? It means there is no better time to invest in NextGen, to enjoy minimum costs and maximum long-term benefits. It means there is no better time to plan, invest, and build for our future competitiveness. And – not un-coincidentally, that’s exactly what we’re doing within the department. 

As many of you know, last spring we launched the Future of Aviation Advisory Committee. We asked this diverse group of policy experts to make policy and regulatory recommendations that will: enhance aviation safety, ensure a world-class aviation workforce, balance the industry’s competitiveness and viability, secure predictable funding, and address environmental challenges. They answered our call with 23 consensus recommendations, not bad for an industry rarely associated with consensus. 

We’re closely reviewing these recommendations now.  We’re working to implement them quickly and responsibly. That’s why we’ll be appointing someone full time, someone directly accountable to me, who will make sure we’re getting this done in the right way. And we will put in place a reporting structure so we can keep monitoring, evaluating, and refining our efforts over time. 

The bottom line is this: These recommendations will not sit on a shelf. They will not whither in a file cabinet. They will guide our actions today, tomorrow, and in the years ahead, which is already happening as the NextGen Advisory Committee works to implement the FAAC’s recommendations. 

Now, I mentioned projected growth in airline travel, and how it can benefit the industry. I also want to speak for a moment about another presidential initiative with the potential to greatly increase the industry’s economic prospects: the National Export Initiative. 

Simply put, President Obama has set an ambitious goal of doubling American exports within five years. As we all know, without transportation, there are no exports – and without aviation, our transportation system would literally be stuck on the ground.  

That’s why aviation is so critical to the National Export Initiative, and why the NEI offers such great opportunity for the aviation industry.  DOT sits on President Obama’s National Export Initiative “mini-cabinet.” And several leaders among your ranks serve on President Obama’s Export Council – including Jim McNerney from Boeing; Glenn Tilton from United-Continental; and Scott Davis from UPS. As the FAAC advised, DOT will be a champion for the aviation industry in these important forums.  I will see to it personally.


So, that’s our 30,000-foot view of aviation’s future.  It’s a future with more travelers filling seats and more cargo exported from America to the world.  It’s a future with more flights safely occupying the airspace – and more passengers safely occupying those flights.  It’s a future with lower fuel costs, fewer delays, and higher profit margins.  It’s a future where travelers and airlines all benefit and prosper together. 

Yes, securing this future will require us to make tough choices today.  Yes, we’ll hit some turbulence along the way.  But you can count on this: Together, we’re laying the foundation for progress.  We’re laying the groundwork that gets America moving, building, and competing once more.  Thank you for your partnership in that effort.

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