THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY FAA ADMINISTRATOR JANE GARVEY The James S. Brady Briefing Room
11:12 A.M. EDT
MR. SIEWERT: As you know, the President's been concerned for sometime now about the impact that the failure to act on the supplementals had. Here to brief on a particular problem with failing to act on the supplemental is FAA Administrator Jane Garvey.
ADMINISTRATOR GARVEY: Thank you, Jake. Good morning, everyone. As you know, the demand for air travel has been growing steadily. Unfortunately, the FAA budget is strained, and that's affecting our ability to deal with the growing number of flights.
The Senate Appropriation Transportation Subcommittee marked up the transportation appropriations bill this morning. Although the FAA capital accounts were appropriately funded, the FAA's operations account was cut about $250 million below the President's request.
I want to make it clear that while we will not compromise safety, this reduction could create substantial delays in a system already strained to meet the demands arising from the rapid growth in air travel.
As the economy has grown over the past several years, air travel has increased significantly. Some 650 million people traveled last year, and we estimate that a billion people will fly annually by 2010. We're seeing the number of flights go up roughly four percent a year.
In March, the administration asked Congress for a $77-million urgent supplemental for this year. It's included in the Senate Agricultural Appropriations Bill, but it has not yet passed the Senate.
Let me tell you what it means if we cannot get that supplemental this year. We will not be able to hire 170 more safety inspectors and medical certification staff. The number of safety inspections will be cut 10,000 below last year's level. In addition, we will have to reduce maintenance for critical air traffic control systems, which will result in more frequent equipment outages, increased time to restore those outages, and greater air traffic delays during the busy summer travel season.
But the issue is broader than just the need for a supplemental. For FY 2001, the administration has requested $6.59 billion for FAA operations. During the past two years, the FAA has faced a very tight budget for operation. And we've lived within our budget by implementing a hiring freeze in many areas; by putting off maintenance; by deferring training; by drawing down our stock of spare parts and reducing the redundancies within our communication network.
The operations budget proposed for next year in the Senate allows us simply to meet our mandatory costs. Fielding new equipment, providing the training associated with new equipment will not occur. But let me repeat: we will not sacrifice safety. As flights are added to the system, congestion and delays will increase.
Let me just give you one very recent example. We lost a radar antenna in Boston over the Easter weekend, and we used the last spare part we had. These are key radars that operate in all of our major airports. To put it in perspective, if this radar failed today in any of our major airports, we simply would have to either endure significant aviation delays, because the backup system could not handle the same level of air traffic; or cannibalize a radar at a smaller airport, which would simply shift the delay problem to another location.
I know that Congress shares our support for a safe, for a secure, for an efficient aviation system. However, the failure to provide adequate and appropriate funding levels for the FAA would seriously jeopardize the FAA's ability to perform its very critical mission.
Thank you very much, and I'd be happy to answer any questions that you may have.
Q As I recall, there was a conversation a couple of months ago when the authorization bill passed where this was sort of an issue as to whether or not there was any money, and the administration at that time more or less endorsed that bill, even though there was not guaranteed money for operations, saying that you were hoping to get it through appropriations.
ADMINISTRATOR GARVEY: Well, as you may remember, I think the President was very clear in signing the bill that he continued to be concerned about the operation numbers. And I would also point to the House numbers, which are closer to the President's budget. So I think the President reiterated several times the great importance of the operation budget.
Q Ms. Garvey, can I ask a question about -- there's a hearing going on across town about what appears to be a growing problem with runway incursions. How serious a problem does the FAA view runway incursions?
ADMINISTRATOR GARVEY: The issue about runway incursions, you're absolutely right; there is a NTSB hearing today where runway incursions is the topic. We don't yet know what the recommendations will be, but I can certainly tell you we'll take those recommendations very seriously. It is a very serious issue. We are seeing the numbers not dropping the way we'd like to see them. We're taking it very seriously. We have a national conference on it the week after next. We've been sending out teams to airports where there are particular problems. We're working very, very closely with both the NTSB and also the Inspector General and Congress; Chairman Wolf has had a great concern about it as well.
Q Isn't there a system -- I don't cover this regularly, but isn't there a system called AMASS, some sort of super radar that handles airports themselves?
ADMINISTRATOR GARVEY: Yes.
Q And a lot of major airports have used this, but apparently the track record on it is not what it was cracked up to be?
ADMINISTRATOR GARVEY: Well, actually, the technology that you're referring to did have some issues about a year ago. We've resolved those, and the first one is going operational this September in San Francisco, so we're going to be testing it, using it in San Francisco and then moving it out to about 40 other airports beyond that.
But I think what's important to note is that technology is only part of the issue, and part of the answer. What we're seeing as we look at more and more of the analysis around our runway incursions is the tremendous importance of human factors. It's really training that's so important, and again, to link it back to this budget, I think that's one of the great concerns that we have, is that as we're taking on more of these initiatives, training is so critical, so important, and we want to make sure we've got the budget to do that. But human factors is very, very important when you're looking at runway incursions.
Q Under human factors, you mentioned training. Is it also the number of people? Does that have to do with runway incursions as well?
ADMINISTRATOR GARVEY: Well, I think that is always an issue. As you're seeing the kind of growth that we're seeing in aviation, how we handle that growth, whether or not we're responding to it in the best possible ways -- I think that's always an issue. And you have to ask yourself in terms of runway incursions what is the impact of the increased growth, what can we do to really accommodate that growth. And that's part of the discussions as well.
Q Did the FAA spend all the money that was given to it from whatever sources on Y2K? And if not, how come some of that money can't be put toward some of the things you're talking about here?
ADMINISTRATOR GARVEY: That's actually a good question. We did very well on Y2K. As you know, we transitioned very, very well, and I think that was a great challenge for the agency, and I think the agency performed almost miracles on it. It was an enormous challenge.
You know, I would have to get back to you on exactly whether there's any money that has been left. I think there might be --
ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR MCLEAN: A little over $20 million.
ADMINISTRATOR GARVEY: -- there's a little over $20 million, and where has that money gone?
ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR MCLEAN: It's been appropriated, but only for Y2K, so we can't use it for anything but Y2K issues, so right now, the Congress would have to take action for us to use it.
Q Are you seeking that?
ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR MCLEAN: It's in the supplemental --
ADMINISTRATOR GARVEY: It's part of the supplemental. That was one of the sort of offsets that we had identified in the supplemental.
Q That's part of the $77 million that you're asking for?
ADMINISTRATOR GARVEY: That's correct, yes. Yes, sir.
Q Congressman Frank Wolf sent you a letter not long ago regarding the runway incursions. In the letter, he says that this year, 53 percent -- that runway incursions are 53 percent higher than they were in previous years -- the previous year, even. What's the cause of that? Is it just simply growth, or are there other issues?
ADMINISTRATOR GARVEY: Well, I will tell you, we've looked at those numbers. And again, we're doing a little bit more analysis to double-check. But I think that Congressman is absolutely right, the numbers are growing. We have not yet seen one cause, or one issue that's really associated with that. We're really focusing our attention to make sure that we can put in place and have some actions that really deal with those issues. So, we're concerned about it, as the Chairman is.
I can't give you one sort of single answer. It's probably a combination of the growth. I think we have also some increased reporting as well, which is part of it. But, in any case, those numbers are too high, and that's why we are so focused on bringing down those numbers.
Q As we enter this travel season, what do you tell the traveler that's about to go get on an airplane, and is concerned about runway incursions going up?
ADMINISTRATOR GARVEY: Well, I think one of these issues that we continue to stress is that we're doing everything that we can in terms of runway incursions to deal with this. We've had conferences in every one of our nine regions. One of the things that we're seeing is that a number of these issues really are very localized; in other words, it's very airport-specific. So, we have found that the work that we've done in individual regions has been very helpful, because it focuses us on solutions that are appropriate to those regions.
In addition, we'll have the national conference, where there's going to be a great deal of discussion about some of the human factors, as well as the technology and what the technology holds for us. But again, not to keep repeating it, but I think that's why the budget becomes so important.
We are seeing enormous growth in aviation. It is becoming, in many ways, a kind of mass transportation for the American people. So, responding to this growth; responding to these enormous challenges; just keeping up with it is really, I think, a great challenge for all of us.
I will tell you that we say this again and again: we will not compromise safety. What we don't want to do is create such inefficiencies in the system in order to respond to the safety issues, that we're creating gridlock. We certainly don't want that; we know the traveling public doesn't want that; and we don't believe Congress wants that, either.
Q The budget that you're talking about is a cut from the President's request, not from the actual funding last year? Is that correct?
ADMINISTRATOR GARVEY: That's right.
Q But you said that you're going to have to cut something like 10,000 safety inspections? That sounds scary.
ADMINISTRATOR GARVEY: That's about a 10-percent reduction in the number of inspections that we do. And that's even without the supplemental. We are very, very concerned with sort of, again, really accommodating this growth. And what we're seeing, and what we've seen just with the budget constraints over the last several years, is in some ways is just maintaining some of the current services we have. But technology we hear a lot about from the traveling public and from the airlines as well. Let's get the technology out there.
In the '80s, the FAA took on an enormous project called AAS. It failed, and frankly, it had to be abandoned in the '80s. What we've done is take a building-block approach now and we're fielding technology in much smaller bites, in a kind of building-block approach, getting it out there. But if we want to continue to do that, we've got to have the training for the staff we've got for the air traffic controllers.
We stopped our training right now at Oklahoma City. That is not good news. We've got to have refresher courses for them to keep them current with the technology that's out there.
Q And if that training has stopped and these 10,000 inspections don't go forward, that's not a safety concern?
ADMINISTRATOR GARVEY: Well, let me tell you, again, we constantly -- we constantly remind ourselves that if we've got any great concerns we'll slow down traffic, we'll just slow it down. But we don't want to create greater inefficiencies. We have an incredible work force, so even with the fewer inspections, of course it's a concern, but we've got some pretty dedicated people who are literally working around the clock.
I'm always amazed when I watch and talk with some of the air traffic controllers -- we've got about 200,000 flights a day that land and take off in this country, enormous numbers. They're very professionally talented.
Yes, sir, in the back.
Q You answered my question, thanks.
ADMINISTRATOR GARVEY: Thanks.
END 11:25 A.M. EDT