Nov. 3, 2023

The need for a strategic focus on ensuring America’s aviation system remains the “gold standard” in aviation safety, efficiency and sustainability will remain front and center as a new FAA administrator gets to work, according to remarks by two veteran FAA executives as part of a unique industry discussion on Nov. 2.

An overview of the increasingly evolving national air traffic system and some potential opportunities for incoming FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker were featured in the “fireside chat” held as part of the Air Traffic Control Association’s Global Conference and Expo in Washington, DC.

The conversation was hosted by NBAA Chief Operating Officer Chris Rocheleau, who held leadership roles at the FAA for more than 20 years before joining the association. Rocheleau’s guest for the discussion, also a long-time veteran of the FAA, was Chief Operating Officer for Air Traffic Operations, Tim Arel.

The session highlighted some common industry topics such as safety, innovation, workforce and sustainability, which led to a few particularly interesting observations.

Arel shared that fresh thinking will be needed to address some of the headwinds that complicate the FAA’s mission to preserve America’s aviation leadership. By way of example, he noted that some technologies for improving aviation system operations encounter delays – often caused by competing internal requirements, or a lack of industry prioritization – rendering the innovations outdated before their benefits are fully realized.

“It’s time to hit the reset button,” Arel said. “We need to take a look at the National Airspace System (NAS) as a whole and come together to start making prioritized investment decisions about the direction we want to go in for a truly integrated, well-managed and more sustainable system.”

Arel said one tool that could be key to realizing that vision is the FAA’s emphasis on shifting agency thinking toward a focus on an “info-centric NAS,” which optimizes data-sharing to produce better outcomes for all aviation system users. He noted that this approach led to the development of the FAA’s DataComm capability and Terminal Flight Data Management tool, which together streamline flight routing and alleviate surface congestion, thereby achieving safety and sustainability aims. Rocheleau highlighted NBAA’s new initiative, Climbing.Fast., emphasizing business aviation’s commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050 and the community’s strong interest in a more efficient and modern air traffic system.

Arel and Rocheleau agreed that collaboration between government and industry, which has led to new approaches in the airspace system, would need to continue. They also agreed, having worked with Whitaker in his previous role as deputy administrator, that he and his leadership team would pursue the same path when implementing other new technologies or regulations for enhancing safety, furthering sustainability and optimizing aviation system efficiency.

“The start of a new administrator’s term is a good reminder of the need to keep pace with modern technology and infrastructure demands,” Rocheleau said. “We look forward to this moment as an opportunity to think and act strategically to address our air traffic system challenges, but also to capitalize on our many opportunities.”