“Cooperation Makes Win-Win”

J. Randolph Babbitt, Beijing, China
May 12, 2010
China Aviation Development Forum

Remarks as prepared for delivery.

Thank you, Deputy Administrator Xia, for that kind introduction. I am very pleased to have this opportunity to represent the Federal Aviation Administration at this important aviation meeting.

The theme for my remarks is very appropriate in terms of what we want to promote here at the China Aviation Development Forum. Cooperation in aviation is indeed a “Win-Win” for all of us. But it is especially important when it comes to cooperation between the two countries with the largest aviation systems in the world — the United States and China.

Thinking about cooperation with China takes me back to one of the truly great moments in aviation history. In 1924, Lieutenant Lowell Smith of the U.S. Army led three Douglas Worldcruiser aircraft on the first flight around the world. Known as the Magellans of the Air, their historic flight included a stop on the Yangtze River in Shanghai.

While on their approach to Shanghai, the Worldcruisers began their descent only to find not hundreds, but thousands of boats along the river. At first concerned about finding space to land with their pontoons on the bustling Yangtze, they were relieved when they discovered that the Chinese authorities had directed the harbormaster to clear several miles of the river in preparation for their landing. They also found a machine shop in Shanghai to make some critical repairs to the engine manifolds on the aircraft.

Lieutenant Smith’s Worldcruiser, the “Chicago”, sits across the street from my office in Washington, D.C. on display at the National Air & Space Museum. The airplane serves as a reminder of an incredible aviation feat and the international cooperation that was required for three open-cockpit biplanes to complete their 175-day global journey.

Much has changed in aviation since the Worldcruisers landed in Shanghai more than 85 years ago. One thing that hasn’t changed is the importance of international cooperation.

In China, our need for cooperation covers the full spectrum of aviation. However, I believe there are certain areas that call on our focused attention to further improve safety and efficiency. This is what I would like to address today.

Runway safety is certainly one critical area that calls for our cooperation. It’s a topic through which the United States and China can learn a lot from each other. From 1995 through 2008, commercial transport aircraft worldwide were involved in 1,429 accidents involving major or substantial damage. Of those, 431 accidents were runway-related. That’s 30 percent.

To reduce these accidents and incidents, we have implemented a number of ambitious training programs for pilots, controllers and airport operators. We are also finding solutions through technologies and advanced programs such as Runway Status Lights, Airport Surface Detection Equipment, Engineered Materials Arresting Systems and others.

This has already made a tremendous difference in the United States. Between fiscal years 2000 and 2008, we saw the number of runway safety incidents in the United States drop by 63 percent. For 2009, serious runway incursions fell to one per month, a 50 percent improvement from the previous year. That said, one per month is still one too many, so I look forward to working with our international partners to find new ways to continue to bring these numbers down.

Engineered Materials Arresting Systems are known as EMAS in the United States. They represent an important part of our overall strategy for improving runway safety. EMAS is installed on 44 runway ends at 30 airports across the United States. More installations are on the way. Since May 1999, we have recorded six runway overrun incidents where EMAS prevented passenger injuries and aircraft damage. China was the first country outside the United States to install EMAS, using it to enhance the safety of operations at the high-altitude airport in JiuZhaiGou.

I am also excited about opportunities to work together on airworthiness. COMAC is in their developmental flight test phase with the ARJ-21 regional jets, and the CAAC is overseeing the airworthiness certification. I understand that COMAC plans to design and build even larger aircraft in the coming years. The ongoing FAA shadow evaluation of the CAAC’s ARJ-21 certification program will improve the mutual understanding of our respective airworthiness certification systems.

Our Commercial Aviation Safety Team has been working closely with China since early 2003. I would like to congratulate China on the implementation of many CAST safety enhancements and encourage the CAAC to continue to include CAST initiatives in its safety program as it moves forward in adopting a Safety Management System. This effort will continue to prove its value as China’s aviation system expands in the future.

Protecting our environment is another area where we have not only a need, but an obligation, to cooperate. According to ICAO statistics, the 20 largest countries in terms of aviation traffic account for a combined 93 percent of the world’s emissions. This is clearly where we need to focus our efforts going forward. ICAO has made a new commitment to work with member states to explore more ambitious goals in the medium and long terms, including carbon neutral growth and absolute reductions. We can do this, but it will take a renewed commitment to work together through ICAO.

Over the next two days, you are going to hear a great deal about new technologies and procedures and what they mean for aviation safety, efficiency and the environment. In the course of these discussions, let’s be sure that we don’t lose sight of our most basic asset – our people. I know that Administrator Li and the CAAC place a high level of importance on training opportunities for China’s aviation workforce, and the FAA remains committed to our partnership in this area. We need to work together on best practices relating to aviation training and the rules and regulations that bring out the best in what we call human factors.

While on this topic, allow me to underscore one important point. No matter what level of training our workforce receives, it won’t make a difference unless we instill professionalism. We must ensure that every person in our organization has a direct line of sight to the safety mission. Whether an employee is sitting in cockpit or the control tower, the boardroom or the mail room, that person plays a role in the safety mission. It’s up to us as managers to ensure that our employees keep that line of sight in focus and stand ready to react when they see safety put at risk.

Finally, let me turn to NextGen.While there is no NextGen to see or touch, the components it’s built from and the benefits it produces are quite tangible. If you take a look through the NextGen Implementation Plan we released just last month, you’ll see very clearly that it touches every element from flight planning, push back, taxi and departure all the way to climb and cruise, descent and approach, landing, taxi and arrival.

NextGen matches any of a number of technological breakthroughs that are familiar to us. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that NextGen is aviation’s smart phone. Just like smart phones put lots of things right at your fingertips, NextGen brings together dozens of improvements in airports, avionics and air traffic management. NextGen offers use of GPS, voice and data communications, and internet access through something we call System Wide Information Management — SWIM. These improvements, when bundled together, result in a much more efficient, responsive, “green” airspace system that serves the traveling public and supports our global economy.

I see the next five years as the critical period for implementing the primary building blocks for NextGen. I’m sure the same can be said for China’s Next Generation Air Traffic System — CNATS. The work we accomplish over the next five years will play a major role in defining how we fly. It will be a very different operating environment. What’s important is that the United States and China — again, the two countries with the largest aviation systems in the world — work together to ensure that our systems are harmonized and interoperable.

In closing, let us recall the Magellans of the Air. When Lieutenant Smith landed in Seattle on September 8, 1924, and completed his historic flight, a Navy Admiral was quoted as saying, “Other men will fly around the earth, but never again will anybody fly around it first.”

I see a similar opportunity for Administrator Li and me as we move forward with our cooperation on aviation modernization. You see, others will certainly follow us in future years to change and improve the next generation system, but never again will anybody implement it first. This is our day. This is our time. Let’s accomplish this together. Thank you.