Taking Flight: One-on-one with Federal Aviation Administration’s Bailey Edwards:
Paletta: Hi, everyone. Thanks so much for coming. And good morning. My name’s Damian Paletta. I’m the senior economics correspondent here at The Post. Thanks to everyone for being here in person and online. I’d like to really thank Administrator Edwards for joining us this morning. And before we get started, I wanted to let our audience know that online and in the room you can tweet questions for Administrator Edwards using the hashtag #TakingFlight.
So, obviously, there’s a lot going on in Washington today and these days. But it’s possible, in 5 or 10 years, we could look back at this bill as being one of the biggest moments in 2018. Explain why you think this bill could have lasting impact for Americans and even people around the world.
Edwards: Damian, first of all, thanks to The Washington Post for having me. This is a great forum and you got a good panel line up throughout the morning here. I’m excited to have the opportunity to answer some questions, and, as you say, kind of relate some of the impact of what happens here in Washington to the traveling public, and the safety of the traveling public, but also, how they live their day-to-day lives.
The FAA bill—taking a step back, because what an FAA bill and what that means to people is kind of part of sometimes something that is very clear. Every now and then, the FAA Reauthorization bill comes forward because we rely on the authorizers to provide authority for us to spend airport money. And that means big infrastructure investments at airports all over the country, big and small. One of the key elements of the FAA Reauthorization bill that’s being considered now in the Senate is key investments. Over $3 billion in the AIP, plus a supplemental billion-dollar investment into airports. Infrastructure is a key priority of the Department of Transportation. And we’re happy to see some investment opportunities go forward there.
As it relates to the agency’s operation, it’s always good when we can have long-term stable funding. It allows us to plan the infrastructure investments. It allows us to plan our modernization programs, so that we can upgrade the existing air traffic control system. At the same time, it allows us to address key policy issues. One of the big issues that we’ll probably talk more about is how we safely integrate drones, address security issues, and there’s a lot of things to like in the bill there.
Process-wise, the bill just passed the House last night. It was 398 to, I think, 23 votes.
Paletta: Which is really unusual, right, these days in Washington to get a bipartisan bill like that. What is it about the bill that you think lets people kind of put their swords down and cut a deal like this?
Edwards: Transportation policy is a good place where people can come together and recognize the importance of getting legislation done. And that’ something that we’ve seen in the past with FAA Reauthorizations. And so, the effort to address member priorities and to address administration priorities to the extent they were able to is seen in the strong vote they have. Process-wise, it’s now headed to the Senate. They also passed a short-term extension to give the Senate a couple of times—or a couple of days in order to consider the legislation with the packed calendar they have. So the table is set.
Paletta: Right. And the bill, did it have all the priorities that he administration was seeking? Were there any things that you guys hoped would be in there that, maybe, you’re going to have to revisit later? I know that the air traffic control issues was something that was talked about a lot earlier last year. But is that something that just wasn’t—you know, there wasn’t the political willpower to get done right now?
Edwards: As it relates to your traffic reform, there wasn’t the votes in the House to see that move forward. Bill Shuster was an effective champion and really understood the issue and pushed it as far as he could. But, unfortunately, the votes weren’t there in the House.
But there are key elements moving forward that address security elements as it relates to drones. For instance, a big priority that was included was language that reflects an administration proposal authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to take action when drones get in the hands of hostile actors, to protect their assets and to protect the public.
Paletta: Let’s talk about that, actually, because it is a big part of this bill. It’s almost an area that maybe has gotten out past regulators because it’s developed so quickly. What opportunities do you see for the use of drones and the government’s role? And also, what risks are there in how drones are being used? What do we need to kind of watching for?
Edwards: Yeah. First one, on the opportunities, one of the things we’re excited at the Department of Transportation and the FAA is the roll-out of our drone IPP, the Integration Pilot Program. Because what’s exciting about that—
Paletta: Sorry. A drone is the size of this table?
Edwards: Many consumer drones are about the size of this table, under 55 pounds, fly around. Some of them are even lighter than five pounds. Really, most of them are very small. But they can be bigger and they can have a wide array of capabilities, depending on the platform.
And what’s neat about the drone pilot program is the ability that—we sought cities to come to us with industry partners to say, “How is it that you want to use drones? What sort of waivers do we need to put in place to protect safety, but also allow inventive uses?” And what we’re seeing out of this—there were 10 sites selected across the country, with a variety of different capabilities. Some are package and/or food delivery items. Others are assisting law enforcement with on-scene response to be sure first responders have more information when they get on-scene. And, you know, all sorts of different applications. Medical deliveries and so forth.
What’s exciting about that is that it helps us as a regulator understand what are the technical and policy challenges that we’ll face, so that we can open the door routine use in way that’s safe and actually improves the lives of everyday Americans. On the security side, the capabilities that kind of create opportunity in the economy also create some potential security risks if in the hands of the wrong actor. Most drone users are out there either having fun or looking to create a business out of it, which is exciting.
But as we’ve seen in world events, that can be—
Paletta: Venezuela, yeah.
Edwards: That’s right. They can be used. And that’s something that’s really caught the attention of our security partners in the federal government. That’s why this legislative proposal as it relates to the DHS and DOJ’s authority is so important. It allows us to act and act when we need to in order to protect public safety and security.
One other element of it that’s very important, that’s part of this bill, is that Congress has reversed course as it relates to limiting the FAA’s authority to have reasonable regulation on drones. If this bill passes, the FAA will finally now have the ability to require technologies that help us know who’s flying the aircraft and know who it is. Being able to discern—
Paletta: Even a 12-year-old who got it for Christmas and wants to fly it around their yard?
Edwards: I think the rules will go through a rule-making process. And so I think that’s something still left to be decided from a public policy perspective. But knowing who is in the air helps discern intent. Knowing whether or not it is a routine delivery that you don’t really have to care about helps law enforcement and helps the public understand whether that’s something to be concerned about. When you can narrow the field, you really take care of a lot of the security and safety concerns.
Paletta: One of the things that we’re obviously talking about a lot in Washington now is trade secrets and foreign countries. I imagine a lot of these drones are made overseas. Is there any risks, from your perspective, in terms of having Chinese technology over our yards, and parks, and maybe national monuments? You know, it might be something as innocent as an $80 drone, or maybe it’s not. Who knows? Are there risks that that the FAA needs to look at there?
Edwards: I think, typically, we tend to focus on the aviation safety impact at the agency. When we step out of our lane, sometimes we can get it wrong. And so from an aviation safety perspective, it’s really more about making sure that aircraft doesn’t run into another aircraft or create hazard for the uninvolved public. So our focus will be on the aviation safety impacts.
Paletta: Now, another part of this bill—it’s almost kind of like a Back to the Future component—is supersonic flight. Can you explain what the bill does in terms of that area and what kind of things it’s making you guys think about even more than you already thinking about?
Edwards: No, that’s great. It’s another element of the bill that we welcome. The bill does direct the FAA to take an international leadership role in developing standards for the re-emergence of supersonic flight. Probably one of the biggest inhibitors to the new generation of supersonic flights are people’s memories of the past. The Concord was a loud airplane and it had a hard time economically making sense. And it was out of reach for most Americans.
What we’re excited about with the new re-emergence of supersonic flight is the manufacturers that have come forward with ideas are pointing to technological improvements in engine design and also airframe design that mitigate a lot of the impacts, or potentially mitigate a lot of the impacts associated with noise or otherwise.
The reason we’re excited about supersonic aviation is it really has the potential to change the way we fly around the world, bringing the world closer together. New York to London in under three or four hours is important in the way we do business. Being in front of people matters. The opportunity to open new tourism opportunities around the world is important.
So there are a lot of technical issues still yet to be worked out. But one of the kind of hallmarks of this administration and the department is that we’re open to innovation. We want to take in the opportunity, learn what the technical capabilities are, and see where that leads us in the policy discussion.
Paletta: To be supersonic, do you need to break the sound barrier? Is that the technical—
Paletta: Okay. And so to do that, obviously, you make noise, not just from the engines, but because you’ve created a sonic boom, I imagine.
Paletta: How can the FAA, obviously, deal with the safety component and get right? But also, deal with the people who, maybe, like, don’t want to be waking up and have their dog go bananas at 6:00 in the morning because there’s a big explosion in the sky? And across the country, right? Maybe some areas are more open to it than others. How do you deal with that?
Edwards: That’s a good question and I think as it relates to the safety, the airplane will have to go through safety certification procedures. We’ve got great experience on how to ensure the safe operation of the aircraft. As it relates to the sonic boom, I think, first of all, we need to assess what that boom will sound like. The manufacturers believe that not just in airframe designs but also in potentially how you fly the airplane, you can have a mitigating impact on what that noise is.
I think in the near term, people are focused on transoceanic flight. That’s where it appears there are business models that can support the ventures going forward. And over time, when we better understand what those sonic-boom profiles look like, we can assess whether the public will accept flying transcontinental. But you have to have the conversation about what’s technically feasible before you start ruling out flight options going forward.
Paletta: And when you talk about transcontinental, how tricky is it to coordinate? Let’s say, the United States is very comfortable with the approach. Maybe France has a much different approach, right? And they’re also making supersonic planes. How do you coordinate that? How do you make sure that that is kind of streamlined in way that both sides feel comfortable?
Edwards: Well, we, of course, engage with our international partners.
Paletta: Are they also moving ahead on supersonic?
Edwards: Some seem more eager to see it than others. From the FAA’s perspective, our role is to ensure that whatever technical or regulatory environments would be mutually recognized and otherwise safe and certifies with the operation of the aircraft. And so it’s really to the operators and the businesses that are trying to develop this technology to create markets overseas. But where there’s interest, we have the opportunity to work direct bilateral from the FAA to the aviation authorities overseas, or through ICAO, which will play a big role in how we set standards on our supersonic aircraft going forward.
So that international engagement, both from the company side and from the regulatory side, will be a big part of seeing this forward.
Paletta: Now, we hear a lot about space and more private companies trying to get into that business. Do you see opportunities for more private businesses in that arena? And is there a way that they can work more closely with the FAA, or is it an area that’s kind of jumbled up right now and needs some time to be sorted out?
Edwards: We welcome the engagement from the commercial space entities that we know and those that are looking to participate. I looked at a slide earlier. The global commercial space economy is roughly in the order $350 billion a year. The launch element of that is roughly $5 billion. But you can imagine, it’s a very important element of getting to space.
So the role that the FAA plays is in licensing commercial space launches, getting them safely through the atmosphere, and then, as we’ve recently seen—something I’m excited about. When you land a booster, I mean, come on, that’s like something out of the future. And yet it’s being done on a more regular basis. That’s kind of the mindset of how we make long-term space exploration something that’s achievable, sustainable, and creates opportunities.
As it relates to kind of who’s entering the field, we’ve got some big players that have been more public. A lot of times what’s unseen is all the startups that come in the aftermath of that lift being capable. Right now, the administration is underway on a big regulatory reform to revise the FAA’s commercial space regulations to streamline and improve the way we do business. The regulations that are currently in place are very prescriptive, tell you how to do things. We’re looking to transition to a risked-based, data-driven, performance-based regulation so that an operator would have to come and just get a single license in order to move forward.
Paletta: And do you think—I mean, obviously, for satellites and things like that, you can see the immediate need for this and the immediate use of it. But how far off are we—you know, space tourism, research and development, how far away is that on the commercial side?
Edwards: It’s an important part of it and I think—I don’t know that I should put a timeline on private industry’s efforts because they’re going to want to get it right. But I know they’re pressing hard. And space tourism is something—part of what, I think, captures the public’s imagination about that is, you know, human beings love to explore. And so that’s something that, for some, this will provide an opportunity to go see the curvature of the Earth and actually go to space. And that’s exciting.
But as you mentioned, in addition to the space tourism element, having routine, low-cost access to even some orbital space creates research opportunities that’s exciting for the scientific community. And so I think what we’ll see is—there are some lead actors right now, and other people with ideas on the drawing board. And our role will be to make sure that they get up through the atmosphere and back safely. But it’s exciting to play a part in that.
Just to kind of pause, just a second, we just spend a little while talking about drones. We’re talking about supersonic airplanes. We’re talking about space ventures. This is an exciting time to be a policy person at the FAA. And our workforce is motivated. Our workforce is excited to be a part of this. And it’s a really, really kind of awesome era of aviation.
Paletta: It’s actually good to be excited because you’re entering, I think, the part of the calendar for your job where the FAA—you know, people are traveling a lot of for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Everyone’s got a complaint. We just passed this bill, “Oh, my God, my seat’s too small. Why didn’t they fix this in three weeks?” How long could it take? Obviously, the seat size thing is part of this bill, and also the talking on the cell phone ban, but how much of that component, customer service, is part of what you guys have to deal with in addition to kind of the new frontier stuff that we just talked about?
Edwards: Right. At the FAA, our focus in on safety certification of flying and making sure the traveling public can fly safely without thinking about it, right? A lot of the customer service issues reside up at the office of the secretary of the department and the general counsel’s office. If the bill passes, the table is set, like I said, in the Senate. We’ll look at our legislative implementation plan in order to carry out the mandates. And we’ll address all of those attending issues as we go.
Paletta: And do you foresee, because the economy is doing so well, more and more—maybe a record number of Americans traveling in the second half of this year, or the last quarter of this year? And if so, could that put strain on the, you know, infrastructure both at airports and also air traffic control? Because I imagine if people, because of the tax cuts of whatever, feel like they have more money—they’re going to go see grandma, or maybe get out of town and go to Hawaii—that could kind of flood the airports at a time when they’re already pretty packed.
Edwards: It’s true. The economy is booming and that has an impact on people’s ability to go travel, whether it’s to go see family, take a vacation. The air traffic control system and its ability to meet demand has a big role in continuing that economic growth. So we will look to the mandates in the bill in order to improve our delivery of those air traffic system.
Last year, I think we had over 940 million people fly in the United States.
Edwards: Which is amazing. Almost a billion people. That’s kind of hard to wrap your mind around when you think about. And the people who fly are important, but also the aviation services that deliver to people who don’t fly. The flowers that you get from overseas, or the next-day air delivery that you depend upon in air cargo is something that has a big impact.
We recognize at the agency our big impact on keeping the airspace as safe and efficient as possible so that we can meet the needs of the traveling public.
Paletta: Well, thanks so much. We’re out of time, Administrator Edwards, but it was really great to be with you and to open this day for The Post. Next, I’d like to introduce my college, Jackie Alemany, who will lead our next conversation about key items on the congressional agenda affecting the aviation industry. But thank you so much and thanks so much for being here.
Edwards: Thank you, Damian.
Paletta: Appreciate it. Thank you so much.
Taking Flight: A view from Capitol Hill with Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Scott Perry:
Alemany: Good morning, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. My name is Jackie Alemany; I am the anchor of the soon-to-launch Power Up Early Morning Newsletter. Please subscribe after this panel. You can go to The Washington Post website and search “Power Up” and you’ll find it.
I’m so thrilled to be joined this morning by Senator Ed Markey, Democrat from Massachusetts, and Congressman Scott Perry, a Republican from Pennsylvania. Both sit on aviation subcommittees in their respective houses of Congress. Thank you so much for taking the time out on this very busy morning. This is a super-interesting topic that I’m sure all of you in the audience are really passionate and interested in.
Before we begin I want to remind you all to please participate and tweet your questions in on Twitter using the hashtag #TakingFlight, and we’ll try to get some of those questions in.
` So, I want to start with a topic—we’ve just heard from Bailey Edwards on the reauthorization bill, so I want to start on the topic that I think the audience is especially passionate about, which is a specific provision left out of the bill that passed this weekend about excessive airline fees. So, Senator Markey, I know that you’ve been pretty outspoken on the issue. How are you going to push the ball forward on it and address it in the future?
Markey: Well, I lost this round. I was able to win in the Senate. Dealing with the issue of consumers just being tipped upside down and having money shaken out of their pockets if they want to cancel a ticket, if they want to have an extra bag which goes onto the plane, if they want to change their flight.
Increasingly, that’s where the airlines see their ability to be able to essentially just gouge the customers, and it’s across the entire industry. It’s a product of the fact that there has been dramatic consolidation in the industry, a reduction from 10 airlines down to only four airlines over the last 10 years. And so, that puts less power in the hands of the consumer, more in the hands of the airlines. It’s over $7 billion now that the airlines now extract out of consumers per year; it’s a huge profit center.
And all my provision did—along with Senator Wicker from Mississippi—was to say that the FAA just had to put something in place which determined what is reasonable to cancel, what is reasonable to change your reservation, what is reasonable for a first bag or a second bag to be put on a plane, and then what would be charged. Just reasonable. Not prohibiting charging—having extra fees. But even that was too much for the airline industry; and on Saturday, in the conference committee at the eleventh hour my provision was taken out. Senator Wicker from Mississippi’s provision was taken out.
So, I’m not done. I’ll be back. I just think there’s a reckoning that’s going to be coming with the airline industry and its relationship because you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say, “Well, we’re going to reduce and reduce and reduce competition, therefore we can do whatever we want,” and then at the same time, “We don’t want any regulation either,” because in that regulatory black hole the consumer is left without any protections.
Alemany: And Congressman Perry, I just kind of want to get to a broader issue about what role and what obligation does Congress play to regulate travelers’ experiences?
Perry: Well, I think we do play an important role and—look, I’m one of the traveling public like everybody else—a news flash to the airlines, like, if we’re traveling somewhere we want to take our clothes with us, right, and we don’t want to be punished and penalized for that. And of course, there’s always a couple different ways—I think we want to get to the same place, but it’s how we get there.
And so, we want to ensure that it’s safe and it’s reliable and that it’s affordable. And I think the best way to do that is to free the industry at large and provide for, and encourage that greater competition, because I will tell you, as somebody that allows me to go fly at the same price and take my clothes with me to where I’m going is going to get I think a fair share of the business.
Alemany: So, in the current compromise bill, what are the major changes that consumers are going to see, flying commercially?
Markey: Well, I was able to secure a few additional consumer benefits. One, my amendment was included, and the House has accepted it that there will be no cellphones on planes where the passenger sitting next to you can’t be yacking for the entire flight.
Alemany: So I can’t Facetime with my friend on a flight?
Markey: You know, thank you [APPLAUSE]. So, no, you can text, but you don’t want to be sitting on a flight for six hours in stereo with two people talking to their best buddy someplace for all six hours. So that is now prohibited. That’s my provision. I may go down in history for that one consumer protection. But—
Perry: E-cigarettes? There’s the provision that so if you’re sitting next to someone just like smoking is a problem, e-cigarettes are now in the same provision, as well as bumping—the arbitrary bumping by the airlines. And you show up and you find out you’re no longer on the flight—that’s a problem.
Markey: And, I also was able to have a ban on knives on planes. Mohamed Atta and the other nine hijackers at Logan Airport in my district up in Massachusetts highjacked two planes on September 11th, 2001. They used box cutters, small knives. And the one thing that flight attendants are most concerned about is that there would be a relaxation of that requirement, that no knives be on planes. TSA over the years has been trying to reduce the requirement to have a full screening and removal of all knives on planes, but I was successful in having an inclusion of that provision in this piece of legislation, as well, so that flight attendants or passengers wouldn’t have to worry that someone has a knife which they can use in the passenger cabin.
Alemany: And, these are pretty common-sense provisions, but I want to talk about a provision that you got in there which I think is fascinating, which is the creation of a drone czar—you know, we heard Bailey Edwards talking about how the FAA envisions the future of drones. Can you tell us about this position and how you envision them legislating going ahead?
Perry: We actually did that in Homeland Security and of course it dovetails in the FAA because the FAA will regulate, but we need somebody—one point of contact, one point of responsibility and accountability—to deal with respectfully and responsibly the issue of unmanned aerial vehicles. They’re all around us. We can close our eyes; we can stick our heads in the sand and hope that they’re not here, but they’re here. And it’s important that someone is the point at the tip of the spear deciding, regulation and what’s appropriate and making it a viable business for industry for the United States. We’re losing market share to other countries because we’re essentially just opposed to it, right? We hope it’s not here. It is here, so we just need to deal with it responsibly, and there has to be somebody in charge of that.
Markey: We’re—and that’s a great idea—we need a drone czar, but we also need to just anticipate this entire drone era. What are the rules going to be? How many are there going to be? What are the protections which the public are going to receive? So, for many of these drones, they’re going to be collecting information as they fly over people’s homes, over people’s backyards. What are the rules with regard to the gathering of that information, if they’re gathering information about a family gathering in the backyard with little kids? Those photographs? That information? What can that individual do with that information?
So, inside of the bill I have required a study by the FAA of what the rules should be for the protection of privacy of individuals. These are basically going to be spies in the sky, you know? Hobbyists? Companies? Gathering information about people. So, on the one hand, you want to make sure that they’re up there and they’re safe and not crashing into each other and aren’t crashing into planes and aren’t being used for malicious purposes; but simultaneously, these devices are going to be gathering massive amounts of information about ordinary Americans with no rules right now, no rules about what the information can be used for.
And so, we need to have, I think, a comprehensive study of this. And then subsequently, ultimately, put real rules on the books so that the public knows, one, that there is—that you have knowledge that information is being gathered about you by these drones in your backyard as you’re walking down the street. Two, notice that that information could be reused for purposes other than that which you would have ever intended it to be used. And three, that at some level—and we have to study this—that you have a right to say no. You just can’t be gathering information about people and selling photographs of kids in the backyard to whomever, or other private information which is being gathered.
This is going to be a fundamental set of rights which I think we’re going to have to debate in our country, because in the same way we’re now debating Facebook, Cambridge Analytica; we’re debating compromise of child privacy online—well, this is just going to be another potential sinister side of cyberspace, where all this information is put into the hands of we don’t know who for use in ways we don’t know what, and so in this bill I do have an FAA database which is going to be created, but a study which is going to have to be conducted to determine what the rules of the road should be going forward.
Perry: So, the Senator’s right. This cuts across multiple jurisdictions. Not only are we talking about traffic management for the drones to make sure that they stay out of where they’re not supposed to be, but also the privacy issues that you’ve talked about. Should they be collecting the information? Whose information is it? Who’s allowed to collect? What do they do with the information if and when they have it? And then, how do we deal with that as a federal government? Is the information, is the privacy side—is that the purview of the FAA? How will they govern it if it is the purview of the FAA? Or, should it be the purview of somebody else? Should it be the purview of local law enforcement, the Department of Justice, et cetera? And then, how do we get the policy right?
The policy, it seems to me, should be regarding the traffic management system and the rules of flying drones—that’s the purview of the FAA. The privacy issues, at least from a micro perspective—and I know this gets a little wonky—at least in the House and the Senate—would be the purview of the Judiciary Committee. So, we have to work in tandem to make sure we work out these issues at the same time.
The schedule’s full, but they’re here. We’ve got to deal with them; we’ve got to collaborate and coordinate to make sure that we get this all correct, so that it happens simultaneously, concurrently, and doesn’t abridge the rights and the freedoms and the privacy of the American citizens, but also doesn’t hamstring the industry from progressing as it should, as it is all around the rest of the world.
Markey: Yeah. And it creates another regulatory black hole—which is a problem, okay—where the FAA has been saying, “Well,”—Pontius Pilate-like—“Not our responsibility. Our responsibility is to get the drones in the air. What happens after that—not our responsibility.” So, you wind up with a threat that is to the privacy of Americans which is being created. But there’s no simultaneity to the discussion of how we’re going to animate the technology with human values. How is this information going to be used? How could the lives of ordinary Americans start to be compromised?
So, it’s not enough just to say, “We’re going to make sure that when they get up in the air they’re not crashing into each other or other things.” You also have to make sure that the people on the ground, on Earth, are also protected in terms of the malicious way in which it can be used, because there’s a Dickensian quality to drones. They can ennoble; they can enable; but they can also degrade and they can debase society if the information is used in a malevolent way. And we have to make sure that we are doing both, in my opinion, simultaneously, which is why I have this study which is built in and why I’m going to have the FAA build the database, because I intend eventually—within the next couple of years—to mandate a privacy bill of rights for ordinary citizens on the ground to protect them against all this data.
This is an industry; these people want to make money off of our data, off of our families. They’re going to want to monetize the privacy of Americans all across the country and say, “We’re just going to sell this stuff.” And that’s the problem that we’ve had with Facebook; that’s the problem that we’ve had with these other companies—they don’t believe that there’s a concomitant responsibility to put in place the security of this information so that it just is not turned into a product.
Alemany: And so, there is a provision in the bill called the Preventing Emerging Threats Act, but there has been pushback from groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, drone advocacy groups, that DHS—so, what this does is it allows DHS and DOJ to intercept drones that they believe is a credible threat. But these advocates believe that the bill doesn’t adequately define what a credible threat is. Obviously, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has applauded the measure, but what are your thoughts on this provision? And how can you oversee these expanded powers?
Perry: So, it’s a work in progress. The authorization is there with this new bill to identify and track, because as you can imagine, they can be used for nefarious or malevolent purposes, and the only way with the immediacy of the issue—the potential immediacy of the issue—is to have someone with the authority to down the drone or to change its course, or whatever the decision is. But at the core of that is to be able to identify which actual piece of traffic, which component it is, positively identify it, and then thwart the threat. And we’re going to have to work out what is decided as a threat; who makes that decision; what’s the timeline, so on and so forth.
And this is—for all the hobbyists and the folks that want to use them to take a picture of your backyard pool or whatever, we get it, but unfortunately, in the world today there are people that want to use them for other purposes, and we have to—it’s one of government’s core functions is to keep our greater society safe. And if we’re going to have these things flying around, we’ve got to make sure that there’s a failsafe to stop bad things from happening. We don’t want to—I mean, you’ve seen it online, whether it’s Venezuela, whether it’s Angela Merkel, when she’s on stage, and the next thing you know, there’s a drone in front of her. Now, if they just want to take a picture, maybe that’s no foul. But who knows what they might want to do?
They’ve also been used in the combat zone to bomb Allied vehicles and successful done. So, if they can do that there, they can certainly do it somewhere else, and we have to be prepared for that.
Markey: The threat is going to become increasingly real. It can be an accident, obviously—a drone that hits a plane, brings it down, leads to the death of a couple of hundred people in the United States. Or it can be deliberate. It can just be an attempt by some nefarious force within our country—it could be Al Qaeda, it could be anyone that just takes this technology and begins to paralyze our airline system in our country.
After the hijacking of the two planes at Logan Airport that flew into the World Trade Center, our air traffic in Boston went down 25% for three years. People didn’t want to get on planes again. That hurt our economy dramatically. So, we have to anticipate malevolent forces that will be thinking of ways in which they can use these devices in order to make people afraid to fly. That’s how terrorists win.
So, I had a company in my office just this past week with a new technology, a radar system that will be able to detect—can detect, in fact—these drones as they’re moving within the radius of a football stadium or an airport, and we’re going to have to begin increasingly to find ways in which we can deploy integrated systems around the things that we want to protect, so that these drones cannot in fact be used in a way that creates catastrophic, potentially apocalyptic, events in our country that would be a total victory for Al Qaeda, a total victory for terrorists.
Alemany: Now, I want to talk about another major issue facing the industry, which is pilot shortages. And Congressman Perry, you’re a former helicopter pilot who served in uniform for 35 years, so I know you’re very much aware of this issue, and I’m wondering if there’s any strategies you have going ahead to support pilots and to kind of curb this problem?
Perry: Well, I think we all recognize it, and of course, as an Army guy I see it manifested—nobody wanted a helicopter pilot when we were done flying it, unless you went to emergency medical service. I mean, nobody in the airline industry that was usually the purview of the Air Force because you had fixed-wing experience at the time you were leaving your uniform service, and so it was a quick transition.
But the airline industry has responded to the shortage by looking for literally anybody that has the capability and the experience to be safe and fly their aircraft. I think, again, this is a call not only to the industry, but to government, to see that there’s a shortage and to find ways to incentivize that kind of vocation. And a lot of people feel like they can’t—it would be too complicated for them. I will tell you, I was one of those people; coming out of high school, I went and looked at the Army program and I thought you’ve got to be like a genius to fly and aircraft and it was just not going to be—something beyond my capability. My recruiter wanted me to work on the engine; I was an auto mechanic; I worked on cars, and I looked at the engines, centrifugal turbo axle, all silver and polished and you know, something completely out of the realm of what I was used to, and I thought I would never be smart enough to do that. And three years later, I was flying the thing.
People have to understand and be educated on what the requirements are—the physical requirements, the academic requirements—but I think that that’s a dream for many people, to do that, and I think that it’s not beyond their capabilities, and they just don’t know it. And I think we have to market that—we have to do a better job, not only as an industry, but as a nation—that vocation, because it’s a very satisfying and fulfilling vocation that a lot of people could realize, but a lot of people—like I said—dream about it. They just don’t think they can do it.
Alemany: What about you, Senator?
Markey: I’m with the general. [LAUGHTER] Okay? And you’re a retired general?
Perry: I’m still serving on the National Guard.
Markey: Oh, beautiful.
Perry: Yeah, so—
Markey: I salute his answer and I agree with it.
Alemany: Well, that’s about all the time we have today. Thank you so much for joining us. And I’d like to introduce my colleague, Lori Aratani, who will lead our next discussion with industry experts. Thanks so much, guys.
Perry: Thank you.
Taking Flight: Powering our skies:
Aratani: Everyone settled in? Thank you all today for being here. My name is Lori Aratani; I’m a transportation reporter here at The Washington Post, and I am joined today by industry experts to talk about key variable in any conversation about the aviation industry. That’s energy and fuel. With me on stage today is Bill Brown, Commercial Engines Marketing Manager at GE Aviation; Kristin Slyker, Vice President of Connected Aircraft at Honeywell Aerospace; and Michael McAdams, President of the Advanced Biofuels Association.
Before we get started, be sure to tweet any questions you have for our panelists using the hashtag #TakingFlight, and we’ll try to get to some of those later on in our conversation.
Fuel is the second biggest operating expense after labor, and prices are rising again, and because of that, so are your baggage fees. But there’s something different this time. The jets that are flying are more fuel-efficient. Today’s Dreamliner burns three times less fuel per hour than the 747. Bill, we’re hoping you can talk to us a little bit about the technology that makes that possible, and what that’s going to mean for passengers and airlines.
Brown: Okay, yeah. Thank you. First, I want to thank The Washington Post for the opportunity. Yeah, when we talk about technology innovation everyone wants to talk about the future and what’s coming next, and the first part of innovation is what’s now, and you just mentioned it, those aircraft that are in service right now. And what’s driving that is, we have technology development, and really in three areas we kind of categorize it. Architecture, aerodynamics, and materials. And why these engines are better is the architecture of the engine.
There are larger fans, smaller cores—that’s the fundamental efficiency of the engine. The aerodynamics are better, so we compress the air better now. And the big revolution really right now is materials. Following the space program and the military, is it’s called the revolution called beyond metals. The front end of the engines now are made of carbon fiber; a thousand pound weight reduction; they’re stronger. And the big development is ceramics in the turbines, so we’re replacing metals in the turbine with ceramics—one-third the weight, twice the strength, more temperature capability.
And you’ve already seen this in the military and in aerospace, but now it’s coming into commercial aviation. The big trend—you can see it as universities now used to graduate metallurgists, and now they graduate engineered material engineers. So, the big difference now is really what we consider beyond metals, and that is a large part of the efficiency of these new engines.
Aratani: So, it means planes can fly further on less fuel?
Brown: Less gas. And you’re starting to see some ranges now where airplanes are flying 18, 20-hour flights, whether the traveling public wants that or not, it is nice to not to have to connect sometimes on your way where. So, it is. The combination of the architecture, the engine, and the aerodynamics, but most importantly, the materials, because weight is the enemy of aviation. I mean, lifting weight is not efficient if you don’t have to, and materials that are two-thirds weight reduction are revolutionary.
We invest a lot to get five or ten percent weight reductions, but ceramics gives us a 70% weight reduction. So, those are huge developments; they take 20 or 30 years to perfect them; but they are now starting to come into engines. This generation, next generation will have more and more ceramics.
Aratani: That’s exciting. Well, I know fuel efficient jets are part of the equation, but there are other elements that are going into making flying hopefully more efficient and more fun, or less of a hassle. You’ve heard of smart homes—I’m sure you all have—but now we have something called connected aircraft, and Kristin, I’m hoping you can help us understand this idea of a connected aircraft and how it harnesses data to improve the flight experience and the bottom line.
Slyker: Sure. So, I think a lot of us have heard about the internet as being some of the types of possibilities that that creates, but with a connected aircraft, you’re truly able to bring together the physical and digital world, so that the airplane, along with the data that comes off of that airplane, to understand where you can anticipate possibilities to do things different.
So, if you’ve ever been stuck in an airport with your children waiting for a maintenance delay, or heaven forbid, with somebody else’s children crying in the next aisle, you know that you would rather have airlines have the ability to anticipate disruptions. And with some of the data analytics that can be done with the connected aircraft, we’re actually able to anticipate with a 99.5% percent success rate one to three days before a flight when parts might fail, when you might have an unscheduled disruption.
And so, airlines are able now to use that data, data from their own operation, and then apply analytics to that data so that they can make those predictions and make flight just a lot nicer for all of us. So, we talk about fuel efficiency—the same type of data analytics can be used to drive fuel efficiency, as well. And so, we talked a little bit about how weight is one of the enemies of driving an efficient flight. Well, airlines wrestle today in an environment where the cost of fuel is 20% to 40% of their operation, and one of the things that they’re expected to do is to carry reserve fuel, or contingency fuel for their flights.
And today, there is a lot of regulation that would say how much contingency fuel is required to ensure safety, but safety can still be ensured using less fuel through things like statistics and statistical fuel control. And the Honeywell Go Direct software that we work on at Honeywell actually helps airlines to better plan. And so, you can sometimes take those reserves from a 10% level down to a 3% level, making flight more efficient and really helping to reduce the carbon dioxide output from a flight. So, a lot of really exciting things.
Aratani: How does—you know, we’ve had a lot of weather issues—how does a connected aircraft work when it comes to weather?
Slyker: Yeah. So, it’s helpful first to think about a connected aircraft a little bit like how your cellphone works. So, first you connect the plane with satellite equipment or antennas that can allow you real time communication. You have satellites that can provide that air time to the jet, just like you get air time services on your own cellphone. And then you have apps that are enabled based on doing that. Well, when it comes to weather and avoiding bad weather, for example, that real time connectivity to the airplane allows for pilots to actually see developing weather, and it allows for them to get information real time on how they can fly safer and more efficient routes. So, there really is a possibility for your pilots to help you have a safer flight that has maybe less turbulence because you’re dealing with less weather. And they’re still able to do that while balancing making sure they get there on time, because at the end of the day you drive efficiency by trying to get there on time.
Aratani: Yeah. Exactly. I think that’s what everybody wants in their flight.
Well, I know another way that airlines are sort of tackling this issue of rising fuel costs is by using more biofuels. I’ve heard some dub the effort ‘farm to fly.’ Michael, can you talk a little bit about what airlines are doing in this area, and what it might mean both for their bottom line and also for the environment?
McAdams: Sure. So, I’d like to do three things today. I’d like to tell you where we are today; I’d like to tell you why we need these fuels; and when they’re coming and how they’re coming. Okay?
So, for the first part, let me just tell you where we are. As a globe we use 100 million barrels of oil a day. Okay? I the United States we use 20 million barrels of oil a day, so we are one-fifth of the world’s consumption. When you look at the yearly use of fuels in the United States, we use about 220 billion gallons; of that about 144 billion gallons is gasoline; 55 billion gallons is diesel or distillate; and 20 billion gallons is jet.
So, where are we in the biofuels world today in America? We’re at about 20 million gallons a year; 20 million out of 220 billion—about 10%. Most of that is ethanol. You cannot fly an airplane on ethanol. You cannot fly an airplane on biodiesel because they have oxygen in them and they freeze at 32 degrees. That is not a good thing for an airplane.
I represent more renewable diesel and almost all of the guys that make the jet fuel—UPM, Neste, AltAir—that are making it through all these range of feedstocks. So, we’re in our infancy as an industry. Relative to the 20 billion gallons, we’re maybe in the hundreds of thousands of gallons right now today. But we have flown every kind of airplane in the world.
I got to go out with Secretary Mabus and watch them fly the F18s off the deck of the U.S.S. Nimitz on jet fuel made out of chicken fat. I got to be on the first flight cross-country with Alaskan Airlines with jet fuel made by REG’s facility down in Louisiana. So, just to be brief, you see the size and scale.
We have a world that is predicted to be 9.7 billion people by 2050 and with that you’re going to have increased energy use. So, the only way we’re going to be able to tackle climate change when transportation is about 35% of the GHG emissions in the world is if we make these fuels in partnership with our customers, the airline industries and their providers, together. So, I’m really delighted to be here to talk about what we need to do to get to that next step.
Aratani: I know United recently unveiled the very ambitious plan to cut its emissions by 50%; it’s also got a sizeable investment, it sounds like, I a biofuel company—
McAdams: I think they have several investments.
Aratani: Yeah, several investments. Talk a little bit about—
McAdams: And so, to knock away any myths, I represent Fulcrum, which is building a Fischer-Tropsch plant in Oregon—pardon me, that’s Red Rock. Fulcrum, which is building a municipal solid waste cellulosic plant in Nevada. And Ensign, who is just completing a 10-million-gallon plant in Quebec, which is a pyrolysis oil that can be upgraded into jet fuel.
So, the technologies are moving. The people that I represent represent every part of the commercial chain, and what we want to try to do long-term is build a sustainable economic model so these fuels can compete with the 100-year existing in common industry without endless subsidy. And so that’s the challenge that we need to talk about in terms of what policy support that we need to move forward over the next 15 years.
Slyker: Yeah, I know at Honeywell, we’ve actually been very engaged in what you can do with biofuels to power aviation, and our Honeywell green jet fuel actually has been used by United and Qantas and others. It’s a drop-in replacement, so chemically the properties are similar to Jet A, or the same as Jet A, so there’s no modification required to the aircraft itself in order to enable using those types of biofuels. And so now you’re able to use more sustainable sources for your fuel, and you’re able to do that safely. And we’re seeing flights now where carbon dioxide emissions are dropping by 60% through the supply chain as a result of being able to use these types of alternative fuels. So, it’s very exciting.
McAdams: Yeah. And our participation in that, because that’s one of the key things. It has to be intermixable and interchangeable. We don’t want to have dual fuel sources, which is really a formula for not good things in aviation, so these fuels from the engine manufacturer—the engines will run on whatever they develop because one of the criteria of the fuels is that they have to be not just interchangeable, but intermixable, both fuels in the tank at the same time.
So, we refer to those fuels as drop-in fuels, and they’re absolutely identical to the fuels that come from a barrel of oil from a refinery, but we can make them out of wood; we can make them out of trash; we can make them out of sludge; we can make them out of sugar. There’s a whole range of technologies that are coming to the fore. I’ve seen the chicken fat and I’ve seen the wood fly an F-16, and so these are really cool novel technologies. But we need to have consistency around the renewable fuels standard, and you all need to be concerned as consumers that we do the right thing for the world and the United States relative to climate change moving forward.
Aratani: Great. Well, it looks like we have some questions coming in from Twitter. We have one from George, who says, “As we introduce the new internet of things tools on planes and in airports, what factors inform how we should be securing these new tools and the data sets they collect from cyber-intrusion?”
Slyker: Yeah. It’s a really important question, and so a couple important things to understand is that there is an enormous amount of effort placed on ensuring that there is segregation in the way that data is accessed on an airplane. And at all times a pilot has control as to whether or not their aircraft is going to retain connectivity or not; that they have the ability fly that plane safely.
The cockpit is treated uniquely from the cabin, and so those things are on separate domains. So there are a lot of measures taken to ensure overall safety and security, and to—I think what you’ll see is that he technologies that are being brought to the market, that drive connectivity, really cyber is one of the foremost thoughts, at least, that we look at, at Honeywell, is how do we make sure that passengers are safe? At the end of the day, you want a true homelike experience in the air. You want to be safe; you want to have the option of connectivity; be able to text; be able to do your Christmas shopping from the plane if you want to. And so, you need to be able to do that in an environment that you can trust and feel safe to fly in.
Brown: Yeah, I wanted to jump in on Kristin’s topic there. She mentioned the cockpit and the cabin, and the engine manufacturers are concerned with the cabin digital. What it is, is in the past when you managed engines and what they were doing, it was a very physical interaction. The aircraft landed; you physically looked inside the engine if you thought there was something wrong. Now, with digital analytics it has gone to where you can monitor the engine in flight and you can see what’s happening, vibrations and temperatures.
The new frontier we’re entering now is almost the same as facial recognition. Our engines we’re building now we’re monitoring like 800 critical characteristics of the engine while it’s being manufactured—dimensions, temperatures when it’s manufactured. So now, when we’re monitoring an engine, when something happens we can look at every other engine in the world and look for a similar footprint or fingerprint of that engine—we call it the digital twin. In the past we just treated engines as an average performer; now, we have a fingerprint of every engine, so when something happens we can start looking at every other engine and determine what the footprint of that is, and the analytics allows us to manage the reliability of these projects much better. That’s where digital analytics is from the manufacturer’s point of view of maintaining the reliability of this equipment.
Aratani: Can you all talk a little bit about what is driving innovation? I know fuel prices are up and down. What other factors, do you think, are driving innovation?
Brown: Well, I’ll jump in on that one because I’ve been in aviation a long time and I’ve seen from this 80s—even the 70s, which was before my time—but it was an industry that was a new industry, and like most industries, there is an acceptance of new technology to be less than reliable. I mean, the computer industry, televisions, phones, anything.
At the beginning of an industry, the thrill of the technology draws some, or allows some acceptance of its unreliability. The maturing of the aviation industry now, today—that acceptance of unreliability is gone. Airlines are not always run by technologists or pilots or engineers anymore; they’re run by business people more often, and their acceptance of the lack of reliability of new technology is gone.
So now, these technologies have a much higher standard of performance than they used to. So there is no learning in service; you have to—engines going into service now have five to 15 times better reliability than they did 10, 15 years ago. So that part of it—we’re developing materials and hybrid electric technologies and all these things, but the bar of reliability is much higher than it ever was before. But that’s the big difference today.
Slyker: Yeah. I think at the end of the day, airlines want you to select their airline; they want to be a pleasure for you to fly. And so, between the desire to have passengers select you as an airline along with the fact that airlines know that technology can help enable them to better integrate their operations. So, what was historically kept as maintenance records over here, flight operations records over here, or how we manage the gate over here—those types of things can now be brought together with technology.
So, an example would be the Go Direct software that Honeywell produces, we do things for ground turn, where the combination of having a gate turn tool, along with telematics on the airfield that allow you to see where all the ground equipment, like refueling trucks or catering trucks, are. It enables airlines to actually turn the airplanes 25% faster, at least. And so, when you’re able to do that, you’re able to recover faster; you’re better able to stay on schedule. Airlines really do—they want to make sure that it is a pleasure to fly, and they want to be able to do that in an environment where they do have to manage their cost structure.
McAdams: And I would say on that, that the airlines have been significant in terms of helping drive my industry forward, in terms of trying to bring new evolutional technologies to the fore. I had a chance to work for BP for 15 years, and we were a global operator. These are all global operators. You operate—your license to operate is given to you by the people around the world where you fly into their airspace and at the airports you land on. Same with drilling wells. And so, the folks that I represent are true innovators, who they’re trying to bring these sustainable fuels under the renewable fuel standard. Most of them are required to do a 60% greenhouse gas reduction. It’s the only climate change program in the country that has actual variables in it.
But, our challenge to our customers—as I was talking to you—is to deliver an economically-competitive fuel that doesn’t need an endless subsidy for 40 years. And the people I represent don’t want to do that; we just need a hand up to get parity. And as we see crude move forward, that helps reduce some of the risk of the technology in terms of the return. So, we’re making real strides. We’re building three plants right now that are cellulosic plants in the United States that will bring real gallons, all of which could make jet fuel. So, we’re in our infancy, but we’ve got to have certainty, and we’ve got to have partnership with the airline industry moving forward to bring that reality into the future.
Aratani: It sounds like an exciting time. There’s just so much innovation going on in so many sectors, and I know that for folks that fly often, they like this idea of being able to have a flight that’s on time, move quickly—I mean, I know that people think a lot about the time in the air, but as you mentioned, Kristin, it’s this idea of the turn-around, too, that really makes a difference.
Slyker: Yeah. And when you look at what’s possible with innovation—when you start to look at connected technologies—at Honeywell we look at how do you connect your entire enterprise? And so, as a passenger you can think about—you really want to have an experience from the time you even conceptualize taking a flight to the time that you return, whether that be through the transportation to and from the airport, the security process, the actual flight itself—the overall efficiency, and how the environment’s being treated through that whole process.
And so, when we look at connected technologies, we consider all of those critical types of connections that can be made to enable a really fantastic overall integrated experience. And so, I know for myself as a passenger flying a lot, I’m really intrigued by how much aviation is going to be able to change to make it an easier process as a passenger, and just be so much more efficient for everyone involved in the overall process.
Aratani: It’s all about communication, right? Even between people, but also between machines, right?
Slyker: I’d like my hotels to know what my preferences are, where it does that.
Brown: Kristin mentioned turn time. We have a new requirement from airlines. For 40 years it’s been reduce costs—fuel, maintenance, all that—now it’s asset utilization. They spend $50 to $150 million for a new airplane and the revenue side of it is, if you miss a flight, a flight is $30 to $150,000 in revenue—that is huge compared to the cost. So, what it is now is saying right now it’s asset utilization. More flights per year for the same assets. And that more flights—and that’s why the new equipment going into service is exceeding the utilization of mature older equipment. So that’s a testament again to the lack of acceptance of unreliability. New products have to be high-utilization assets from the moment they go into service.
Our first aircraft in service at Turkish Airways last year flew 300 flights in the first 30 days—10 flights a day per day for 30 days. The first aircraft off the line, an Airbus A320—that was a testament to the reliability and the utilization of an asset right off the line that was probably not passable 30 years ago, but that’s where we are today.
Aratani: That’s pretty amazing. How does that compare to what it would have been—I don’t know, I guess that’s hard—30 years ago?
Brown: Well, 30 years ago you would have babied an aircraft into service; you would have put it on certain flights where you had lots of mechanics; you would have been checking it every night to make sure. But now, the airlines say, “Listen, I bought you a—” it’s like when you buy a car, you don’t hesitate to go on an 800-mile trip the next day. They don’t hesitate to put that aircraft into service, and that’s exactly what they do. The expectations are much higher from our customers.
Slyker: Yeah, airlines and ground handlers, or those that carry freight—they quantify the amount of time missed on using their airplane down to the minute, right? They know exactly how much it costs, down to the minute. And so, technology that allows for a better optimization of the required inventory so that if something does happen I actually know what to do about that, and then being able to predict failures so that I don’t have to ever experience down time—it’s critically important. You’ve made that purchase of an asset because you want to be able to use it, and at the end of the day it benefits all of us when they can keep doing their jobs.
McAdams: And if you look at the statistics, the airline industry is, in the next 15 years, planning to double. Right? So, that’s—they used $133 billion worth of fuel this year, so we’re going to need to have those sustainable fuels as we double the air travel, because it’s 2% of all the global climate change. And the gasoline is different from the jet fuel because it’s from the distillate column. So, when you look at CH—when you look at the greenhouse gas reductions, about 30% of it’s from the distillate column, which requires a different type of process to make that fuel.
And I’ll tell you, having spoken to the Congress several times on this, they get hung up around ethanol and they forget that this is a distinctly different molecule. So, we’ve got to have this all balanced and we can’t look at it through one lens; we’ve got to look at it holistically.
Aratani: So, I guess the hope is that you’ll have a more efficient flight? I guess that’s for passengers. What do you think the result is for passengers? Everyone’s always very—you want a pleasant flight—but you’re also very price conscious. So, do you think this helps passengers looking to buy tickets?
Slyker: To me, I think it benefits passengers in both ways, ultimately, over time. Both my flight can be more of a homelike experience; it can be more cost-effective because we’re able to control the cost of fuel. I know I’m doing better things for the environment if I’m using the right materials. And I think the overall process around travel is, you’re going to see a lot of exciting innovations that make it nicer to be a traveler.
McAdams: Thank you very much.
Aratani: Great. Well, that concludes our segment. Thank you, Bill, Kristin and Michael, for being here. Now I think we’re going to be moving to the next portion of our program. Thank you.
Content from Delta Air Lines:
Oldham: Good morning. I’m Cheryl Oldham, senior vice president for education and workforce at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber Foundation, and I am delighted to be here today with Heather Wingate, the senior vice president of government affairs for Delta Airlines. And we are going to talk a little bit about a pretty pervasive challenge, I think, the nation is facing. I think you all, like us, probably don’t go a day without hearing something about workforce challenges, skills gap, talent being really important no matter what industry you’re in or for the country as a whole.
And so there’s really, I think, three things when think about this issue nationally, which is we’re at a unique time where we actually have more positions open than we have people looking, 6.9 open, 6.2 looking, which is a unique position. And then there’s also this issue of actual skills gaps. Right? We don’t often times are looking for people; they don’t have the skills for the positions that we have open. And then finally just an awareness issue sometimes about critical positions and job availability and what industries are growing. And I think no industry is spared, and the airline industry certainly is not either. I think there were some number from Boeing talking about airline maintenance technicians and 650,000 that we’ll be looking for globally over the next two decades and certainly hear a lot about pilot shortages and things like that. And so I know that Delta, I think, anticipates 30% of your maintenance technician positions turning over in the next decade and looking for, I think, in that same time period about 8,000 pilots.
So I’m curious to talk a little bit about the pilot issue. I know you’ve done some work to create those pathways. I mean, you need to be thinking about that talent pipeline now for Delta, so how are you doing that with regard to pilots?
Wingate: No, that’s exactly right, Cheryl, and I’m glad we’re having a chance to talk about this topic. Delta, over the next five years, will be looking to hire 25,000 people, so that includes 8,000 pilots that you’re referring to and over the next decade. And so we just in 2018 launched a program called the propel pilot program which is a workforce development program designed to create an additional stream of pilot applicants. We do draw from the military heavily, from regional airlines of course, but we are actually partnering with eight educational institutions, universities to just broaden that stream of eligible applicants.
So, I mean, what you really want to do is, like you said earlier, you’ve got to raise awareness. Students may naturally think about a liberal arts degree, but there’s some excellent careers within the aviation industry, whether you’re talking about the airline maintenance personnel or you’re talking about the pilots or you’re talking about the 1,000 flight attendants that we’ll be looking to hire in 2019 alone. So we really see it as a responsibility to create these workforce development programs that do raise awareness but also ensure that there’s really solid training because that’s the issues; you’ve got to have people with the correct skills. And so this propel pilot program that we launched just this year with these universities is designed to do just that. So we go in and help develop the programming and the training and then provide them with a conditional job opportunity that provides a career path along an accelerated timeline.
Oldham: That’s fantastic. And my assumption is that you are sort of well received by the universities who want to partner. I mean, I think it’s just so critical; employer leadership is just so critical in all of these issues and really to be a willing partner to come to the table and say, “We’ll help you to create that pipeline,” not just for Delta but for the entire industry.
Wingate: Yeah, we think rather than waiting around for a government program, let’s get in there, partner with the community, partner with the universities, whether you’re talking about the airline maintenance technicians or the pilots, make sure that that programing and training is there. It’s in our interest, ultimately. So it’s an investment that makes a lot of sense. You know, you want to raise that awareness of aviation jobs early on. We’ve partnered with two-dozen junior achievement chapters to get into the high schools and allow these kids to shadow Delta employees, allow them to do simulation. One of the really interesting simulations that I like is an opportunity for these high school students to simulate running a Delta sky club. So it peaks their interest; it broadens their horizons, and hopefully it leads to excellent job applicants for Delta.
Oldham: Absolutely. And we are talking, I think, more and more as a nation about this idea of career preparation and career awareness and this notion that sort of, yes, the traditional maybe pathway is not necessarily for everyone or even the—but there’s choices out there, and so these sorts of awareness programs with junior achievement and other are really, really interesting. I want to little bit on the maintenance technician position just because I know you’ve got dozens of partnerships with community colleges. Talk a little bit about the importance of that position and then why you thought this partnership was really important.
Wingate: Yeah, these airline maintenance technician positions—we have the Delta TechOps facility in Atlanta that I’ve spent quite a bit of time just in my first year at Delta touring—these are great jobs, and they do require skills. So when it comes to the airline maintenance technicians we partnered with over 40 community and technical colleges across over 20 states, so really trying to pull from everywhere to entice people to pursue these types of career paths that really aren’t your liberal arts degree kind of career path but that really get you a solid job on the other side.
I mean, you’re talking airline maintenance technician would be in a situation where 7 or 10 years into their job, I mean, they’re making six-figure salaries. These are solid positions and in demand. So, again, like you said at the top, we have 30% of our current airline maintenance technicians who will hit retirement age in the relatively new future. You know, 10 years just isn’t that long a period of time.
Oldham: I can’t think of—well, I’m sure there’s other industries, but I can’t think of any right off the top of my head where I find it very, very important to have that really skilled workforce in those critical positions of both pilot and maintenance technicians.
Wingate: That’s right. And it has to be hands-on, so doing things like going in there and training the instructors. You know, we get in there and train the instructors that are going to be teaching these students and also provide them with the hands-on opportunity, giving them engines that they can have hands-on experience maintaining before they actually get into the real shop.
Oldham: I mean, this is a large investment by Delta.
Wingate: It is. It is, but it’s a smart one. I mean, you’ve got to do it.
Oldham: No, absolutely. Absolutely. Do you see that sort of widespread throughout the industry, other airlines you’re partnering with, or is this specific to Delta?
Wingate: Well, these are specifically Delta programs, but there’s wide awareness that these aviation jobs could potentially face skill gaps such as what you study on a daily basis, so I think it’s just a matter of each of us getting in there and solving for it. And it’s excellent private sector investment and ultimately leads to excellent career paths, good solid pay, good benefits, and that’s what we want to do at Delta. I mean, ultimately our success as an airline is 100% dependent on our people. And so we do believe that in addition to investing in the people that are part of Delta right now, which is part of our culture, we’ve got to ensure that we’ve got a steady stream of the right type of talent that we can ultimately hire and bring into the company.
Oldham: And it really is a testament to the leadership of the organization, I think, to really understand, obviously, that clear connection between the importance of your talent and sort of talent being king. Right?
Oldham: You will succeed or fail based on the people that you employ and being able to sort of have that steady stream of talent into your organization.
Wingate: That’s exactly right.
Oldham: Yeah. I think we could talk about this all day long. [LAUGHS] I wanted to ask you one more question just quickly about the junior achievement piece. Is that sort of widespread across the country? And do you have numbers in terms of high schools and places that you are working?
Wingate: Yeah. So far we’ve pursued this program with over two-dozen junior achievement chapters and want to do more. You know, it allows an opportunity for shadowing at a very young age and, like I said, just really peaks their interest. And there’s nothing like simulations to really give kids a feel for just the broad range of opportunities out there for them.
Oldham: Absolutely. And I think exposure at that young, young age is key, particularly, I think, when we think about low-income, disadvantaged populations where they might not understand or have anyone really in their world who works in those industries. And so, yeah, it’s hard to sort of explain to somebody what it’s going to be like to be in those positions and to sort of recruit them into it early, so really important. Well, thank you so much for allowing me to sit here with you and have this conversation.
Wingate: Yeah, thank you.
Oldham: As I said, I think we could talk about it all day long, and they’re certainly critical, but now I think we have to turn it back over to The Washington Post.
Taking Flight: Innovations in flight:
Fung: Good morning. Thanks for sticking with us through to the final panel of the morning. My name is Brian Fung. I’m a tech reporter and business reporter for The Washington Post. Joining me today we’ve got a fantastic lineup of panelists here. I’m pleased to welcome John Clark who is the vice president at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works; David Silver, vice president of civil aviation at the Aerospace Industries Association; and John Wade, who is the president of commercial aviation at Gogo. So I just wanted to start off asking, just generally speaking, what do we think the next five to 10 years of flight will look like from a technology perspective? And maybe, John, do you want to start off?
Clark: Sure, so right now there’s some really interesting and exciting activities going on—I’ll talk specifically within our Skunk Works area—where recently we were awarded an X-plane activity, X-59 or the low-boom flight demonstrator. And what that activity is aiming to do is to go evaluate the aspects of supersonic travel and understand how the sonic boom and what those—how to best attenuate it so the sound of a sonic boom sounds more like a door shutting as opposed to the big boom that has traditionally been seen. So we’ll have a first flight of that activity in 2021, and from that we’re going to gather a lot of data that’s going to allow us to inform the regulatory agencies on how to approach supersonic flight in the future so that maybe we can fly from Los Angeles to New York in three hours instead of the extensive time it takes today.
Silver: Well, first of all, thanks for inviting us to be here today. We’re thrilled. You know, the way I like to phrase it is that we are on the cusp of one of the most exciting times in the aviation industry in a long time. It’s something akin to when we moved from the turbo prop to the turbo fan, moving to the jet age. Right? We’re not quite Wright brothers, but we’re darn close. And between I look at supersonic flight; I look at unmanned aircraft. You’re going to see them utilized more in remote locations within the next five years, eventually within city environments. And then also urban mobility, so the euphemistic air taxi, you’re going to start to see those start to come in in the next five to 10 years, initially probably with pilots. But post that you’re going to see those move towards autonomy, so it’s an amazing time to be a part of this industry, and we’re going to make really large leaps very, very quickly.
Wade: From Gogo’s perspective, clearly we’re about connectivity in aviation. And I think the industry is very much used to the fact that Wi-Fi today has generally been slow and expensive, and the big change we’re seeing now is that connectivity is becoming a lot faster, a lot affordable. So I think over the next few years we’re going to see the industry that was largely offline in the air becoming predominantly online in the air and all the things that go along with that.
Fung: I wanted to come back to this concept of supersonic travel. And, you know, most consumers probably remember the Concorde, but they don’t know much else about supersonic flight. What has changed between then and now?
Clark: So the big facet right now that you look at is—so with the Concorde, the Concorde if you go back and look at the economics of the aircraft was not terribly profitable because of the limited flights that were available, and so it was always over the ocean, and so you had a limited set of passengers or consumers that you could take advantage of. What our X-59 or the low-boom flight demonstrator activity working in concert with NASA—what that will allow us to do is to understand ways to attenuate that sonic boom and open up a whole other set of commercial flight pathways that will make it a much more economical and viable opportunity for supersonic business jets or things of that nature to now be much more prevalent in the economy as opposed to what existed before with a flight from New York to Paris.
Fung: So it’s all about opening up new routes that could allow airlines to make supersonic flight—[OVERLAPPING]
Clark: That is an enormous facet of it, but obviously you’ve got to do it in such a way that allows the regulatory agencies to be okay with the noise that’s being made with the new system.
Fung: Yeah. What are you hearing from regulators about that prospect?
Silver: Well, first of all, we’re very supportive of the language that’s in the House bill that just was passed yesterday, I believe. And it is focused on two sets of rulemaking. Number one is the over-land ban that’s currently in place, and the second is the takeoff and landing of those aircraft. And most importantly it tells the FAA to take a smart-paced methodology in terms of moving forward in this area. So the testing is going to inform us. But from the regulators there’s two—there’s more than just one regulator. There’s obviously the U.S. regulators, but we also have other countries get a vote too. And so making sure that ICAO which is based in Montreal as the aviation arm of the U.N. is looking at standards and recommended practices, SARPs, that will also allow us as we move forward in this technology to actually operate the aircraft. I think really the most important thing, the biggest thing that I can stress is, is there is a lot of interest within the United States on this technology. And what we don’t want to do is move so slowly that we cede the opportunities to other countries or nations.
Fung: John, I wanted to ask you a bit about drones. And, you know, obviously drones are an emerging business sector. And I’m kind of curious if Gogo has any plans to look into that at all.
Wade: We actually don’t. We generally make money by people like you and I using it in the service on board [h]. I’m afraid there are not enough passengers on drones for it to be really profitable for us.
Fung: Mm-hmm. So you’re not looking into sort of the communications links between drones and pilots or drones and businesses and so forth?
Wade: We’re not. We’re really more focused on passenger and on the airplane itself.
Fung: Interesting. David, what can you tell us about sort of the future of drone technology and the efforts to build sort of a separate layer of airspace for drones in commercial aviation?
Silver: Right. So there’s UTM, unmanned traffic management. It’s a program that NASA has been working on for a number of years and has coordinated a lot of their efforts with the FAA. And it’s primarily focused on 500 feet and below. So there has been a tremendous amount of work in trying to figure out how this system is going to operate, communication between the vehicles and the ground. Who is going to be in charge of that operation is also critical. But I think there is a danger, quite honestly, if we look at it as a separate layer.
All of our air traffic is going to have to flow between each layer, and it has to happen seamlessly. For instance, a emergency rescue helicopter is going to be flying below 500 feet, especially when it comes in to land. So how are you going to ensure that that airspace is clear at any point in time to enable that landing to occur while at the same time not significantly disrupting the commerce that will occur because of the drone commerce ________?
Fung: As I understand it we’ll still waiting broader permission from the FAA to do, say, drone flights over people, beyond line-of-sight operations. Where do we stand with that? How close are those?
Silver: So the FAA, the DOT has their pilot program that they authorized working with 10 sites that will allow some limited operations over people. There are a number of factors, I think, that are going to long-term effect how this economy is going to work. Number one is the obvious one, is we have to figure out how are you going to allow these vehicles which are safe and reliable to operate over people. But then there are other issues such as homeland defense that we need to talk about. There are aspects of privacy that are going to have to be adjudicated. The issue here is not really from the technology standpoint. We have a lot of very smart people in the industry who can understand how to do things reliably and safely. But as we found over time there’s a lot of extraneous items that crop up that sometimes slow down how quickly we can do things.
Fung: One of the things that I’ve experienced in covering technology is that technology is now in virtually everything. And one big trend in technology is the use of AI and machine learning and automation, so I’m kind of curious. Maybe, John, you can tell us a little bit about how machine learning and AI is going to be affecting the future of aviation moving forward.
Clark: Yeah, absolutely. So at least within the Defense Department where I see this applying is that there’s going to be a lot of new developments and systems that are going to enable the systems that are operating today to work more efficiently and effectively in concert with the human. With the more connected environment that we’re working in and operating in today, you find that there’s a lot more data for the humans that interact with these systems to consume to the point that it becomes overwhelming with how much data they have to absorb to try to make a decision. And so, you know, the opportunity with the artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities is to take that data and be able to sort through massive volumes of data and cull out what’s important and what’s valuable for a human to make a decision with at that instant in time so that the best decision is made and the safest decision is made for the systems that are there. That plays a very fundamental role in how, I believe, that the artificial intelligence capabilities will be applied. And it’s really going to take the things that—you know, one of the axioms that we talk about internally is that with autonomy we want the operators of our systems to be tacticians. We want them to be thinking above the fight to make sure that they’re doing the right thing at the right time every time. And by having that information available, by augmenting them with this artificial intelligence capability we’re going to enable them to make sure that they’re making the right decisions every time. And, as I said, there’s just so much data out there right now for a pilot or an operator to consume that it makes it very difficult for us to ensure that they’re making those right decisions every time.
Fung: Well, one of the things that Silicon Valley has obviously struggled with very publicly is the use of flawed algorithms or algorithms that misidentify what’s valuable, what’s not, what’s a valid signal, what’s not. How are you grappling with that problem?
Clark: So right now there’s a couple of different angles that we’re looking at. So the first one is that the training of those algorithms is extraordinarily important. And within our Lockheed Martin organization at a corporate level we’ve actually established what we call a verification and validation investment activity where we’re looking at how we can go do that verification and validation to deterministically identify that the algorithms are doing exactly what they’re supposed to do each and every time. And that is a very difficult problem, which is why it’s a major investment area for us at this time.
Fung: Stepping back a little bit, you know, one big topic in Washington has been the president’s trade agenda and the role of tariffs across the economy. I’m kind of curious how those policies have affected your industry if at all.
Silver: So from AI’s perspective, you know, the aviation industry, the aerospace manufacturers succeed despite tariffs not because of tariffs that exist. So we are obviously all for free trade, but at the same time we’re closely monitoring and communicating with our members about the impacts of any potential tariffs on our global supply chain as well as for impacts in terms of export of our products long-term.
Fung: Have your members noticed changes in costs that they are facing as a result of these policies?
Silver: You know, quite honestly I’m not enough in the weeds on that, and I particularly shouldn’t be able to comment.
Fung: Fair enough. So, John, I wonder. You know, we’ve talked a little bit about communications technology, but I want to expand on that. You know, right now we’re seeing an explosion of consumption among people on the ground of streaming media and other data intensive applications, but when I get on a plane that’s still not really widely available to me, so what’s your expectation for those types of features in in-flight connectivity?
Wade: Well, fortunately that era is now arriving, and we’re in the middle of rolling out our new generation of a much higher speed connectivity. It’s available on about 900 aircraft today, and there’s about another 1,000 aircraft that will be installing that over the next few years. I think very much it changes the paradigm from being a slow-browsing experience to one that feels much more ground-like. We have about almost 500 aircraft with Delta today that are equipped with this technology, and passengers are happily streaming from Hulu or Amazon prime or any of those other video services and enjoying Game of Thrones or even more recently streaming TV. So we’re very much getting to that point now where connectivity has emerged out of the slow and expensive era into one where it’s much more affordable and much more like the experience we have on the ground today.
Fung: Well, we just recently yesterday had a hearing in the Senate on tech companies and their privacy practices, telecom companies and their privacy practices as they become much more like tech companies. So I’m just wondering if you would kind of weigh in on that for us. One big question that came out of that hearing was would you support a comprehensive federal privacy law covering all 50 states?
Wade: Sure. We’ve always taken passenger information privacy very, very seriously. We treat it in the way that any other ISP would in terms of maintaining sort of integrity around data, whether it’s PCI compliance or any of those other policies associated with passenger privacy. So we’re very aware of the fact that people want privacy in terms of their day-to-day, and we’re very supportive of that.
Fung: Should consumers have a choice to opt into whether they’re data is shared with the provider, or do you prefer more of an opt-out approach?
Wade: I think the opt-in is the right way to do it. I mean, if we look overseas that’s generally the policy that people adopt, and that’s the way we feel about it.
Fung: Great. One issue that was brought up in earlier panels was the environment, and so I’d like to ask a little bit about climate change. Beyond the use of renewable fuels are there technologies or materials that are on the horizon that could help the aviation industry address that challenge?
Clark: Yeah. I’ll take a swing at it. So one of the activities that we’ve also similarly explored with NASA is the opportunity to have much more efficient flight-for-cargo type vehicles. And so you may have seen last year a pretty significant discussion around the idea of a hybrid wing body, and you get significantly more lift out of a hybrid wing body construct than you do out of the traditional tube and wing that promulgates most of the commercial aviation today. And so with that hybrid wing body you would be able to have a much more efficient platform that saves significant amounts of fuel while hauling large amounts of cargo around. And that cargo at one point may actually transcend into passenger jets as that technology continues to mature. The challenge, there’s also a barrier to entry with some of that with the premise that there’s a lot of airports around the world that have been facilitized centered around how airplanes operate today. And so if you think about that change in an aircraft, the cost or the benefit associated with those fuel savings, they’re going to have to offset significant amount of facility cost as well.
Silver: Yeah, I would also add that there is a lot of work going on globally. Recently we had the CO2 carbon emissions changes going into effect. Each generation of commercial aircraft has been better than the generation before. And we as an industry are going to continue to focus on doing those types of things, and we have programs with the FAA looking for those opportunities using the CLEEN program and others to continue to improve.
Fung: Are there specifics that you can talk about?
Silver: Well, you know, we had the CO2, but the next ones, you know, actually globally, non-volatile particulate matter, NVPMs, are another issue that is now rising up. We work closely also with the Europeans monitoring what the Europeans are up to in terms of looking at what the emissions of these aircraft are—what it looks like. And then there are programs like actually next-gen where, you know, the more efficient that the fight path is, the less fuel that you’re actually going to burn. So these are all things that contribute to make the whole better.
Fung: Mm-hmm. John, you know, there have been a number of technologies that were developed for military applications that then became very influential in the civilian space. What kind of technologies can we expect that to happen with moving forward in the next five to 10 years do you think?
Clark: Wow. There’s so much. So right now the one that’s probably most prominent, I think that I’d go back to the artificial intelligence and machine learning activities that are there. Obviously the commercial industry is investing extraordinary amounts of money in that. I believe I read a statistic recently that over 80% of the S&P 500 companies are now culling out some element of AI as part of their strategy going forward, so it’s a huge movement. But the opportunity with the defense industry is going to be centered on that idea that we’re really going to have to have a lot more rigor in what we put forth, the commercial industry, and a lot of what the applications that’ll apply there. They’re going to be able to move a little faster in putting capabilities to market, but the rigor that we’re going to have to put into it, I think that rigor will flow into the commercial market and make those types of applications much more beneficial for the consumer.
Fung: Great. Well, I wanted to wrap up here so that everyone can sort of get to the main event of the day, which is the Kavanaugh hearings. So thank you to our guests, and hope to see you again here soon back at Washington Post Live.
Clark: Thank you.
Silver: Thank you.
Wade: Thank you.