Can the FAA Solve Travel Woes?

ABC's Martha Raddatz goes one-on-one with FAA Administrator Michael Huerta on holiday travel, new air traffic technology, and the potential hazard from drones.
6:03 | 11/30/14

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Transcript for Can the FAA Solve Travel Woes?
Back now with our "Closer look," and if you're watching us in an airport while waiting to get home today, good luck because you're not alone. Millions are expected to travel on planes, trains and, of course, automobiles today. ABC's David Kerley joins us from Reagan national airport with the Numbers behind a nation on the move. Good morning, David. Reporter: Good morning, Martha. It really is remarkable. This holiday week nearly 13% of this country's population is on the move. Today, though, the busiest air travel day with an air traffic control system that is in need of an upgrade. This Sunday we could see long airport lines possibly even delays for millions of Americans. After the last leftover, we're heading home. Wednesday travel was tough. More than 700 flights canceled. 5,000 delayed because of that snow. In Atlanta, delta invited us into its tower and showed us the complicated logistics to get you and your bag home. Here we saw some 40 miles of conveyer belts. It's our busiest day. It is truly our super bowl. It's one of our busiest days that we'll see all year including the summertime. Reporter: One in eight of us traveled this Thanksgiving weekend to be with family, 90% of us behind the wheel. With average gas prices well under $3 a gallon, it's one of the best deals of the season. But airlines aren't passing on their fuel cost savings. Tickets up about 1% this year as airlines hold the line on capacity keeping jets full. Those empty middle seats just about a thing of the past, but the future showed up this weekend with the FAA activating its next gen air traffic control system in the nation's capital. The gps-based system gives pilots a straight line descent, their own lane into the airport saving fuel and more on-time arrivals but it's not all clear skies out there. We just had a -- something fly over us. I don't know if it was a drone or a balloon. Reporter: Increased reports of drones flying too close in airport airspace illegally. 200 incidents since February. A half dozen of those close calls forcing pilots to change course. That sounds like a surge, and it may be. Earlier this year the FAA asked pilots to report every drone incident, now numbering 25 a month as these relatively inexpensive drones become more popular and potentially more dangerous. Martha. Thanks, David. Michael Huerta, the administrator of the FAA joins us now. Thanks for joining us. Today is expected to be the busiest travel day of the year. I think about 2.61 million people forecast to fly home today. You said this week 15% to 18% increase in flights compared to a typical Saturday. Weather looks good, so what's the most important thing here today to keep things moving? Well, 46,000 flights today, a little over that, and fortunately we have great weather today, a little bit of rain in the San Francisco bay area, which is very much needed there. But it should be a good day for flying. And going forward, I know you have this next gen system. Sure. That is supposed to reduce air traffic, save fuel costs, all kinds of things, don't have to talk to air traffic control enough, but it's been criticized widely by democrats, by republicans, that it's late, that the 2020 start date is fiction, that it's moving at a snail's pace. Why is that and what are you hopeful will happen? Next gen is now as you heard in David's setup piece. We just turned on some advance navigation procedures. Three airports. But that's in addition to four other metropolitan areas, in Dallas, Houston, Seattle and in northern California. And the savings are dramatic. Here in Washington, we're expected -- It's still way behind schedule. It's not. Actually we have built out the foundational technologies and that had to be put in place before we could start delivering the benefits and the benefits are being delivered right now. Let's move to the drones that David also mentioned in his piece. Your own FAA Numbers show that since June pilots have reported 25 near collisions. Could a drone bring down a plane? I'm thinking of the geese that brought down the us airways flight into the Hudson river. That was a flock of geese and we're talking about drones and they're pretty big. The thing that I'm most concerned about is doing everything that we can to avoid conflicts between aircraft, whether they're drones or whether they're commercial airliners. And if you're using an unmanned aircraft, you need to stay away from an airport. You need to stay below 400 feet and you need to maintain line of sight. There's also an educational component. We're working closely with the model aircraft industry to make sure that there's an awareness out there of the conflicts that could exist. And I think as a result of this awareness we're seeing more reporting. We've asked pilots to report them and we have enforcement tools. There's a drone policy, an overall drone policy we can expect beyond what you're talking about. Well, sure. Last year we published a road map for integration of unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system. Later on this year we expect to solicit comments on a rule for small unmanned aircraft, those that are under 55 -- What might it look like? Well, it looks at -- I can't talk about what's in the rule because we're still in that process, but what it will consider is the full scope of activities, the certification of the aircraft, the qualifications of the operator and the sorts of uses, all with the goal of maintaining a safe system. And do you think the fuel prices, just quickly on the fuel prices that David also mentioned, I know this really isn't your avenue here, but should airline prices, should airline tickets come down because the fuel prices arecould go down, oil prices are coming down. Well, that's a decision for the airlines. They're always looking to reduce their expenditures, but you talked about metroplex earlier or next gen. Here in Washington this is going to save the airlines 2.5 million gallons of fuel a year. Just in Washington. We hope we see that in ticket prices even though that's not your job. Thanks very much for joining us, Mr. Huerta.

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