At the recent ATCA Annual Conference, business and government leaders came together to share what the future has in store for the aviation industry. Among those leaders was Teri Bristol, Chief Operating Officer of Air Traffic Operations for the FAA, whose keynote speech extolled the successes that the industry has had despite the many challenges facing it. Bristol also noted that recent government legislation, specifically the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), included a number of provisions designed to support investments into a modern aviation industry.
“We’ve traveled through many phases of the pandemic,” Bristol began. “I don’t mean just going from staying at home watching Tiger King to waking up and playing Wordle. What I mean is that for the last two years, we have been scrambling to deal with the unknown.” From a seasonal high of 51,100 operations a day in March of 2020 to fewer than 11,000 a month later, the aviation industry has been pushed to remain agile as it learned what it would take to succeed in the new normal.
While passengers have started to return, even setting some records for travel before the omicron variant, the fact remains that the National Airspace System (NAS) is still changing. “I’m happy to fill in this assembly on a few of many things that we [at the FAA] were able to achieve,” Bristol said. “We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity, with the enhancement of the BIL, to touch every part of our country, and we need all hands on deck to ensure we optimize the investment opportunity.”
Bristol noted that the BIL will provide $5 billion, in $1 billion increments yearly specifically for air traffic, $2.25 billion of which is earmarked for reducing the backlog of refurbishment and replacement projects. Bristol noted that these projects will benefit the NAS by “helping us replace aging power systems, fuel storage tanks, heating systems, water lines, and many more elements that have exceeded their expected purpose life.” Nearly $3 billion of the air traffic investment will also be targeted towards the construction of new air traffic control (ATC) facilities with a focus on aging facilities first.
There is another $15 billion that will be targeted at airport infrastructure with an additional $5 billion for airport terminals, according to Bristol. “This bill puts us in a unique position to modernize infrastructure, increase equity in transportation, help climate change, strengthen the supply chain, and create jobs,” she noted. These critical infrastructure investments go hand-in-hand with other investments that the FAA is looking to make as part of a seven-year-long project. “[Over those seven years] we hope to realize a state-of-the-art telecommunications system that will help us communicate amongst sites, systems, and people,” Bristol added.
CVG International Airport is one such site that has achieved operational stability with new communications technology. “This helps us reduce time and increase efficiencies in our operations and is the preferred method of surveillance for Air Traffic Control Systems,” Bristol said. “But that doesn’t stop us from trying to get better at it.”
Bristol, who will, unfortunately, be leaving her position in the coming months, noted that there are many ways for the government and the industry to continue creating a modern aviation industry. With new entrants in the NAS, increasing diversity of aircraft, the rise of urban air mobility, and the future of spaceflight, there are many exciting opportunities ahead for both sides of the industry to create something amazing.
“Sometimes the government and industry are partners, sometimes we spar a little bit. In the end, however, we always have the same goal: to ensure that our NAS remains safe, efficient, reliable, and is always available to transport people and cargo,” Bristol said. “Even when we don’t necessarily agree on the most direct way forward, the industry has always stepped up and invested in the future of the national airspace. I will leave this position with the utmost respect for the aviation community for their public service. It has been an honor.”
To learn more about how the FAA is investing into a modern aviation industry, click here.