The Senate Finance Committee issued the following testimony from a subcommittee hearing:
Testimony of Vern Raburn
President and CEO
Eclipse Aviation Corporation
Senate Finance Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources, and Infrastructure "Aviation Financing: Industry Perspectives"
Chairman Bingaman and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today on the various legislative proposals to fund the Airport and Airway Trust Fund (Trust Fund) and the need to modernize our air traffic control system.
I am President and CEO of Eclipse Aviation Corporation (Eclipse), located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Eclipse has successfully designed, developed, certified - and is now manufacturing and delivering the world's first Very Light Jet (VLJ) - the Eclipse 500. To date, we have delivered over 30 aircraft and are on track to deliver more than two hundred by the end of this year. This high-performance aircraft has technology and capabilities normally found in jets costing millions of dollars. With an acquisition cost of one half of today's small jets and the lowest operating cost per mile of any jet, the Eclipse 500 provides the lowest cost of jet ownership ever achieved. This breakthrough has made the benefits of jet transportation available to a broader segment of the population, and inspired an emerging generation of entrepreneurs to bring a new form of air travel to the flying public - the air taxi. It has also opened up a new world of convenient air transportation to a majority of the communities in the U.S. that are simply not served by commercial airlines, thereby enabling significant economic and job growth.
My goal today is to first press upon the subcommittee the importance of modernizing our national air transportation system through the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) initiative. Second, I will provide my insights and recommendations on the various legislative proposals that address funding our aviation system. And finally, I want to dispel a few myths concerning VLJ integration into the national airspace system.
Before I get into my testimony, I want to first say that all participants in the aviation industry are in complete agreement about the critical need for transformation of the nation's air traffic management system. We must get on with the specifics of modernization, as our aviation system and economy simply cannot afford the system gridlock that is inevitable.
Transformation to NextGen
The opportunity for innovation in our air transportation system is upon us. The FAA estimates that in less than twenty years, air traffic will roughly triple and passengers will double. However, simply tripling the old infrastructure is neither an affordable nor scalable solution. The existing architecture of the airspace is built around technologies developed in the middle of the last century. A good analogy, and one that the FAA has used, is that the current system is like the old telephone system with operators connecting lines manually with patch cables. That telephone system became saturated and was not scalable to the levels that modern business and consumers demanded. The Air Traffic Management system is under considerable strain as the demand for air travel increases and as the system's antiquated technology backbone is overwhelmed.
To its credit, the FAA recognized this growing need and in 2003, with the assistance of Congress, created the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) charged with leading, along with aviation stakeholders, an effort to conceptualize and plan the NextGen. Under FAA Administrator Blakey great progress has been made and the transformation to NextGen has already begun.
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