Modernizing the Aviation System: Leveraging the Assets of the FAA's William J. Hughes Technical Center
William J. Hughes Technical Center, Egg Harbor Township, NJ
Summary of Subject Matter
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Subcommittee on Aviation
Hearing on “Moving NextGen Forward: Leveraging the Assets of the FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center”
March 11, 2014
(Remarks as Prepared)
Let me begin by thanking everyone that helped organize this hearing. The FAA has been a great host and I really appreciate all their efforts to accommodate us. I also want to thank Ranking Member Larsen for taking time out of his day to see firsthand some of the impressive work underway here at the Tech Center. And last but not least, I want to welcome our witnesses. I look forward to your testimony and a productive discussion.
I have been fortunate to represent the Tech Center during my time in Congress. While I haven’t always been the Chairman of the Aviation Subcommittee, I have always been a strong supporter of the Tech Center and its workforce. And I believe in the work that goes on here. It improves the overall operation of our aviation system, but more importantly, it saves lives.
One example of this is the Asiana crash in July 2013. While the loss of any life is tragic, it could have been much worse if not for improvements in fire safety developed, tested, and produced here at the Tech Center.
The Tech Center houses the world’s largest full-scale aviation fire test facility. Work here has produced fire safety improvements, including heat-resistant evacuation slides, fuel tank explosion protection, and fire blocking layers in seat cushions. These efforts reduce the likelihood of a fire event on board an aircraft, and, should one occur, slow the spread of fire, giving passengers more time to evacuate an aircraft, and ultimately save lives.
While I can go on talking about the wide range of important work that goes on here, today’s hearing is focused on the Tech Center’s role in the development and implementation of the FAA’s air traffic control modernization program, known as NextGen. The goal is to ensure the Tech Center’s resources and expertise is being used in a way that makes the most sense.
The Tech Center serves as the core FAA research and development facility for NextGen. Looking back, the Tech Center has been involved in some of the earliest air traffic control (ATC) projects, including the design and development of the early Air Traffic Control Automation Systems and the first ATC tower cab mockup to validate controller work areas. These projects served as the foundation for our existing system.
And today, the Tech Center continues to play an integral role in the development, testing, and validation of the latest and greatest technologies. This includes programs such as satellite navigation, “text-message like” data communications, and the enabling software to process NextGen technologies and capabilities. These programs are essential to NextGen, and the testing and validation work is being done right here at this facility.
Further, the Tech Center’s role isn’t over once a new system is deployed in the field. For example, when the en route automation modernization (E-RAM) software experienced site-specific problems as it was being installed at FAA facilities, the problems were relayed to the Tech Center. Here government and industry teams were able to troubleshoot the problem in a simulated environment, develop a solution, and transmit the solution back to the air traffic facility for implementation.
The ability to conduct that type of work is only possible because of integrated laboratories here at the Tech Center. One of the key laboratories is the NextGen Integration and Evaluation Capability, (NIEC). Among its many functions, it has the ability to provide a combined environment of legacy systems with future technologies and capabilities, enabling it to support the transition to NextGen. Given the considerable challenges with the ongoing transition to NextGen, we must examine every available resource here at the Tech Center and ensure they are being adequately utilized, especially the world class expertise of the Tech Center people.
Finally, as part of the transition to NextGen, the FAA, in partnership with industry stakeholders, must also safely integrate unmanned aircraft systems or “UAS” into the national airspace system. The Tech Center currently leads the FAA’s Safety Research and Development Program. Through this program the Tech Center continually works with the FAA’s regulatory organization to increase safety and allow for new technologies and ideas, including UAS. And as the committee saw earlier on the tour of the NIEC laboratories, the Tech Center has already “flown” UAS using simulation in the National Airspace System (NAS).
The FAA Tech Center will have a key role in helping collect, protect, analyze, integrate and validate operational and safety data that will become available from the six UAS test ranges established by the FAA. This data, along with the other work, is essential for the FAA to develop the regulatory program to allow safe UAS operations in the national airspace system. We need to make sure that the Tech Center has what it needs for this important effort.
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