Today, the Subcommittee on Space held a hearing titled, “Transforming America’s Air Travel” to examine the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) and the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) efforts to maintain a safe national airspace, while integrating new technologies and capabilities into the National Airspace System (NAS) that are central to preserving U.S. leadership and global competitiveness in civil aviation.

Ranking Member Donna F. Edwards (D-MD) of the Space Subcommittee said in her opening statement, “U.S. civil aviation is a symbol of our nation’s ingenuity and ability to design, develop, and manufacture products that are second to none. And, as many of my colleagues know, aviation is vital to our economy and mobility.”

Federal research and development in civil aviation aims to address key challenges related to airspace capacity, carbon emissions, cybersecurity, noise pollution, and atmospheric hazards, among other issues. The NextGen initiative, established by Congress and being implemented by FAA, was intended to be a set of technologies, processes, procedures and policies to address these challenges.

Ranking Member Edwards said, “Over the past ten years, FAA’s overall progress in developing NextGen has been slower than expected and the agency is now focused on implementing industry recommendations for near-term benefits. Research and development is providing the tools FAA will need to implement NextGen and improve the nation’s aviation system so that it can respond to changing and expanding transportation needs.”

In addition to discussing the implementation of NextGen, Members discussed NASA and FAA research activities on integrating unmanned aviation systems into the NAS, identifying R&D needed to combat potential cybersecurity threats to the current U.S. civil aircraft fleet and systems, and reducing noise and other environmental impacts that affect many communities across the country.

Members also highlighted FAA’s significant delay in delivering annual reports to Congress on the agency’s R&D plan. Ranking Member Edwards emphasized that those research plans are needed to inform a reauthorization of FAA’s R&D activities. She added, “We need to know what kind of R&D activities are planned in cybersecurity, software assurance, human factors, and the certification of new technologies into the national airspace systemall critical areas for the future viability and safety of the National Airspace System.”

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said in her statement for the record, “The changes to our aviation system will not be simply technological, they will be cultural. Because it is people who are at the heart of safety, and the ongoing transformation of aviation in the U.S. will require not just research and development, but also an evolution of our workforce and the training that we provide to it.”

In response to a question from Ranking Member Edwards, Mr. William Leber, the Co-Chair of the Committee to Review the FAA Research Plan on Certification of New Technologies into the National Airspace System, said, “We have a cultural challenge, not a technological challenge. We have a communications challenge. We need to find ways to overcome the goodness that the FAA brings in its absolute vanguard of safety. They are beyond successful and that goes for the entire industry not just the FAA. But we need to overcome our communications and cultural resistance to change because the world is going to change and we’re going to have to change aviation with it if we’re going to lead.”

Below is the full list of witnesses that testified before the subcommittee:

Dr. Jaiwon Shin, Associate Administrator, Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, NASA; Member, FAA Research and Development Advisory Committee

Mr. Dennis Filler, Director, William J. Hughes Technical Center, FAA

Mr. William Leber, Co-Chair, Committee to Review the Federal Aviation Administration Research Plan on Certification of New Technologies into the National Airspace System; Vice-President, Air Traffic Innovations, PASSUR Aerospace

Dr. R. John Hansman, T. Wilson Professor of Aeronautics & Astronautics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Director, MIT International Center for Air Transportation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Chair, FAA Research and Development Advisory Committee

Dr. Greg Hyslop, Senior Member, American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics; Vice President and General Manager, Boeing Research & Technology, the Boeing Company; Chief Engineer, Engineering, Operations & Technology, the Boeing Company

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