On Wednesday, January 18, Terry McVenes stepped away from the ICAO meeting he was attending in Montreal to host a wide-ranging discussion with Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen.
Terry began the hourlong Webinar by asking Billy’s opinion on advancements in 5G and evolving technologies that arrive to market quickly. Billy said he is thinking ahead to the advent of 6G and acknowledged the rapid expansion of technology often comes in half the time the industry has traditionally had to react to technological advances. He also noted that as the one millionth drone has been licensed, they are preparing for 2.5 million drone operators in the not-too-distant future. In addition, as eVTOLS are coming online at a rapid pace, FAA has already started asking what regulatory framework will be needed and how they will integrate into the NAS. When Terry asked how the FAA sees the frequency set aside for aviation being affected down the line, Billy recommended engaging with affected parties early and often, as the industry has begun doing by working in collaboration with telecom companies. “Across the government, we’ve made great progress, thanks in no small part to RTCA, as we find ways to hash out our differences,” said Billy. “5G and commercial aviation can successfully coexist, and we’ve seen our telecom colleagues join with us every step of the way.”
Terry then delved into new radar altimeter MOPS and the contrast between that and older VOR technologies. Billy said he looks at the National Airspace in three parts: legacy, space-based navigation, and what is to come beyond visual line-of-sight. He credited RTCA again for having been a critical component of NextGen and being on the forefront of new standards. He went on to say the industry now needs to look at what is no longer necessary in the complex U.S. airspace, proceeding with caution when dismantling older technology, but moving forward to free up critical resources.
Coming off the successful AAM Workshop RTCA held the week before, Terry geared the discussion toward accelerating the safe integration of AAM. “I can’t imagine a more exciting time to be a part of this industry,” said Billy. “We’re looking at a purposeful and driven approach.” This will include three parts: certifying the aircraft itself, regulating the operation, and safely integrating AAM. Success will require looking at the entirety of the ecosystem and working with partners across the globe, as well as the U.S. Congress who are being asked for consistent, stable funding. Moving forward, Billy said, FAA will continue to work with groups like RTCA and seek to be predictive in modeling, leveraging automation and artificial intelligence to help in the process. Progressing forward, the industry will seek to maintain the same stellar record of safety the aviation industry has earned. “We will never sacrifice safety for technology,” said Billy.
Terry asked how new technology can raise the safety bar across the system for general aviation and Billy said he seen the benefits of the safety management system and the collaborative partnership the industry has enjoyed, which should be expanded to more stakeholders, including universities and the military.
Billy also spoke of taking a global approach to leverage best practices. While the U.S. has the most complex NAS, the journey of continuous improvement means bringing others to an ever-expanding table, said Billy. Terry echoed this approach, recognizing the burgeoning number of international participants within RTCA. “Innovations require us to think beyond our needs to the whole system,” said Billy. “We need to ask ourselves, how transportable is this? And make sure we don’t leave anyone behind with emerging technologies.” Terry pointed to the 193 member states comprising ICAO and the importance of ensuring everyone is given the tools they need as we look at the industry through a worldwide perspective. Billy agreed, saying we could leverage strengths to continue to drive down the global fatality risk.
The two also discussed environmental concerns and how to balance them with the impact aviation has on our global economy. The goal, said Billy, is to move to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, understanding this will be a heavy lift.
Finally, Terry and Billy tackled the topic of workforce development and meeting the future needs of the industry. Billy believes that looking for a diversity of opinions and ideas is important, as is finding innovative ways to reach new, younger audiences. He pointed to the FAA’s recent success in reaching air traffic controller candidates through social media and outreach to gamers, which yielded 60,000 applicants for 1,500 jobs. Terry and Billy talked about workforce development with universities and attracting a large workforce for all positions, from pilots, mechanics, and engineers to business operations associates, graphic designers, attorneys, and accountants.
If you missed this interesting discussion live, you can find the webinar here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzySqyClYDA .