WASHINGTON, D.C. — The FAA has made some strides in moving towards modernization, but is behind schedule and not fully geared for some other important issues, a Congressional committee discovered Wednesday, Feb. 5, in a hearing designed to check on the FAA’s progress in the two years since reauthorization.
Rep. Frank LeBiondo, chairman of the aviation subcommittee, said Congress wants to know not only the status of the agency’s implementation of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, but must also begin preparing for reauthorization of the FAA next year. Roughly 200 mandates to the FAA were included in the last Reform Act.
Most of the testimony from the three witnesses at the hearing centered on the Next Generation Air Transportation System — NextGen — and integration of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) — drones — into the system.
Appointment of an assistant administrator to head up NextGen development has been a major step in moving to this satellite-based air traffic system, but the program is falling behind schedule, the committee learned.
Because the change to a new system covers almost every branch of the FAA, concern was expressed that the agency does not have a coordinated effort to get communication and cooperation to advance the program on an appropriate timetable.
Drones are expected to increase manyfold over the next five years. How they are assimilated — safely — into the national airspace system must be developed. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told the committee the agency sees drones added to the traffic system in small classes with no single set of regulations covering all.
Besides Huerta, other witnesses at the hearing were Calvin Scovel III, inspector general of the Department of Transportation, and Dr. Gerald Dillingham, civil aviation issues of the General Accounting Office.