The Secretary of Transportation gave a lunch-time speech Tuesday
that seems to be stirring up some dust... already NATCA is shooting
back with a full barrage and we expect others to follow suit.
As these factions make themselves known, it might behoove us all
to take a look at the Secretary's speech, listed, unedited,
Remarks For The Honorable Norman Y. Mineta, Secretary Of
Aero Club Of Washington, Washington, DC
January 24, 2006, Noon
Thank you, Rob Land, for that kind introduction and for your
strong leadership of the Aero Club. And I appreciate the warm
Each year, I look forward to this event. The Aero Club
consistently attracts the top leaders of the aviation community,
which makes this an ideal opportunity to reflect on where the
industry that we all love is headed.
Jeff Shane and Marion Blakey are up here, and I can tell that
they are getting nervous. “Mineta’s in a reflective
mood again. Watch out! You know what happened in
I may have stirred things up by thinking out loud two weeks ago.
The point, of course, is that the airline industry and aviation
itself are in a state of transition. And speculation aside, we do
not know exactly how it will all shake out. But from the vantage
point of a long career that has always had aviation at its core, I
can tell you that bold thinking is in order – in the
boardrooms of America’s airlines, as well as in Washington,
The changes occurring in
our skies and coming down our runways combined with the security
challenges of a post-9/11 world are so significant and so
fundamental that temporary adjustments and band-aid solutions just
With that imperative in mind, here at this forum two years ago,
I announced the Next Generation Air Transportation System
Seeing our plans take shape is exciting. The architecture of the
Next Generation system comes into clearer focus every day – a
21st Century system taking full advantage of the digital
environment. We are raising our sights – from ground-based,
to space-based navigation, communication, and surveillance.
Perhaps most exciting are the tangible results that the NextGen
initiative is already producing. A good example is an approach that
we call Network Enabled Operations, or NEO. In plain English, this
system will ensure that all information regarding aircraft
operations is directly available to everyone who needs it, whether
it is the airline dispatcher, the FAA controller, or even a Federal
Air Marshall or her colleague on the ground.
NEO was a key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, and with
good reason. Right now, unauthorized entry into the restricted
airspace over the Nation’s capital is occurring much too
frequently. Having a common operating picture will save precious
minutes – perhaps precious lives – when an
“aircraft of interest” or other abnormality is
In addition to their security and safety implications, NEO and
other NextGen technologies position us to use our airspace more
efficiently, which is a must as we head toward more than a billion
passengers by 2015, less than 10 years away.
Clearly, this move to a modern, technology-driven aviation
system is going to require sustained investment.
It is going to bring operational changes to the cockpit, to the
control tower, and to every inch of airspace in between.
So we in government have been putting ourselves through much the
same exercise as the airlines themselves.
We have overhauled management, and brought in top talent.
Through the Air Traffic Organization and Management Advisory
Council, the Federal Aviation Administration has become a
performance-based organization, just as we envisioned in the
National Civil Aviation Review Commission.
The FAA is doing some serious belt tightening, and has already
cut some two thousand positions out of the ATO. But labor costs
continue to comprise 80 percent of the FAA’s operating
budget. And the biggest portion goes to pay the air traffic
The outcome of the current contract negotiations between the FAA
and NATCA will fundamentally affect the FAA’s ability to meet
the demands of a growing aviation system and hire the next
generation of controllers.
The proposal that NATCA
has on the table right now would cost the FAA more than $2 billion
in additional personnel costs and expenses over the next five
years. That is $2 billion that would not be available to help fund
needed capacity improvements, modernization of our aging equipment,
or the new controllers that we need to hire to replace the
thousands who will be retiring.
We cannot afford this. You cannot afford this.
It is important that we achieve a deal that is fair to our
employees, to the struggling aviation industry, and to the American
taxpayer. That is our goal. And we are striving for a voluntary
agreement. We continue to hope that NATCA shares the same
And we are equally committed to giving America a sound financial
plan for our aviation system, built around a sustainable, reliable
That is something that we do not have today. In fact, some of
the changes occurring in aviation are making it increasingly
difficult to fund our investments.
When we deregulated the airlines in the late 1970s, we
understood – at least we hoped –that it would bring
down ticket prices. And it has. At the end of 2004, ticket prices
were 8.4 percent below their last peak in 2000.
We understood – at least we hoped – that it would
lead to competition, and make air travel more convenient for the
flying public. And it has.
But I do not think that, at the time, anyone fully recognized
that this great news for travelers would have so severe an impact
on our ability to finance aviation infrastructure.
We have learned. With our primary funding source tied to the
price of a ticket, lower fares mean a smaller Aviation Trust Fund.
And there is no real relation between the airline ticket tax and
the cost or amount of service provided. As a result, in 2005, users
paid over three-and-a-half billion dollars less than it cost to
operate the system.
And the gap could widen. The Trust Fund is now at its lowest
balance since 1977 (other than when the taxes expired in 1997).
Through the NCARC, we started looking at the FAA’s funding
issues back in 1997.
And soon, the Bush Administration will propose a new, cost-based
financing system for the FAA – our plan for locking onto a
financial course capable of sustaining America’s aviation
We opened the dialogue on finding a better finance mechanism for
the future last April. Many of you have been part of those
discussions. And some very good, and very creative, ideas have
We are in the final
stages of shaping those ideas into what I believe will be a solid,
forward-looking financing proposal that allocates the burden
fairly, while ensuring that we are poised to finance the Next
I cannot give you the details yet, but I expect that we are
going to see a cost-based plan that creates a more direct
relationship between revenue collected and services provided, which
will ultimately make it more responsive to the users.
And we must be realistic about the Federal deficit.
That is one reason that I feel so strongly about making sure
that we come up a stable and predictable source of revenue. It is
our ticket for opening up new financing opportunities – such
as taking advantage of capital markets – to fund our
investments in the towers, technology, and other equipment needed
to keep pace with the growing numbers of passengers that our
airports and airlines are seeing every day.
Fixing the FAA’s financing, negotiating a new labor
agreement, and modernizing the system through NextGen and other
investments – it is a full agenda. But then, I learned being
around flyers that you cannot remain aloft by staying still.
And, Ladies and Gentlemen, our work on these plans will help
American aviation do more than remain aloft. It will allow you
– the bold thinkers who have built and continue to lead this
dynamic industry –to lift it to even greater heights in this
Thank you for keeping America on the move. May God bless you
all, and may God continue to bless the United States of