House subcommittee hears testimony on FAA center’s readiness for NextGen

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Laura Stetser/From left, Michael Whitaker, deputy administrator and chief NextGen officer, and Dennis Filler, director of the William J. Hughes Technical Center present their testimonies in front of the U.S. Congressional Aviation Subcommittee members. Laura Stetser/From left, Michael Whitaker, deputy administrator and chief NextGen officer, and Dennis Filler, director of the William J. Hughes Technical Center present their testimonies in front of the U.S. Congressional Aviation Subcommittee members.

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP – Aviation officials and representatives from the private industry gave testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Aviation during a field hearing on Tuesday, March 11 at the Federal Aviation Administration’s William J. Hughes Technical Center.

The hearing was scheduled to uncover how prepared the center is to handle the needs of the FAA’s NextGen air travel modernization project, and if it can serve as the data collection point for the newly approved unmanned aircraft testing.

Rep. Frank LoBiondo and Rep. Rick Larsen were on hand to take the testimony in what was the Tech Center’s first-ever Congressional field hearing. Before the hearing started, the congressmen were taken on a tour to see first-hand what was being done at the research and development facility based next to the Atlantic City International Airport.

Larsen said he was impressed with the work the center is doing.

“There is a direct correlation between the work being done here at the Tech Center and lives being saved across the country,” the Washington congressman said.

LoBiondo said that the work done here helped minimize the risks of an Asiana Airlines 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,” he said.

“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,” said LoBiondo. “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.”

The hearing allowed several FAA officials to explain how the center’s resources and expertise could be leveraged to further the goals of the NextGen initiative.

Michael Whitaker, deputy administrator and chief officer for the NextGen project, said the tech center already plays a central role in both the deployment of the modernization efforts as well as the introduction of unmanned aircraft.

“Much of the work performed at the Technical Center is in partnership with private industry, academic institutions, other agencies such as NASA and the Department of Defense and international organizations,” he said, adding that the Department of Homeland Security and military entities also have space at the center. “It is the home of the Federal Air Marshal Service training program and the Transportation Security Laboratory, a test and evaluation site for new, advanced airport security technologies.”

Dennis Filler, the center’s director, said the center would need more flexibility in its budget to move funding to projects that take priority.

“I would want 10 to 15 percent more flexibility to handle research and development needs,” Filler said. “We need the ability to adapt.”

Also testifying were Cynthia Castillo, president and chief executive officer of CSSI, Inc., a private sector partner; Melvin Davis, the national representative for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association; Pete Dumont, president and chief executive officer of the Air Traffic Control Association; and Ben Gielow, general counsel and senior government relations manager for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

Laura Stetser/An unmanned aircraft is on display for the hearing. Laura Stetser/An unmanned aircraft is on display for the hearing.


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