Lockheed Martin’s CEO’s Speech is Full of Sound and Fury, but does it Signify Something?

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ARTICLE: Marillyn Hewson talks NextGen buy-in

Lockheed Martin’s CEO knows aviation; Marillyn Hewson worked her way up the CEO position. By January 1, 2013, when she assumed the ultimate leadership position, she had worked her way through relevant assignments at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics and Kelly Aviation Center, L.P. Among other impressive career moves within the nation’s largest defense contractor, one of her positions was Corporate Internal Audit Vice President. Her undergraduate degree is in economics. Ms. Hewson knows numbers.

Given that background, it is important to note what she said to the RTCA on June 5 in a speech entitled “Flying Has No Barriers, Delivering on the Promise of NextGen.” There, in a very thoughtful and extensive exposition of Lockheed, the history of ATC and the future of the system, she made the following critical comments:

“We believe that NextGen is the right answer for the future. The vision and road map laid out by the FAA and groups like the RTCA are exactly what we need to stay ahead of tomorrow’s challenges. The question is: what’s it going to take to achieve the NextGen vision in a post-sequestration world? How can we clear the barriers in front of us and continue to power the unlimited potential of flight?

First, we have to make the business case for an investment in NextGen.

I think we have the right data, the right answers, and the right road map. Are we telling the right story? And are we telling it at every opportunity? Do we have the right people rallied behind that story? I’m not just talking about the aviation community; I’m talking about everyone who will benefit from the job creation and economic growth this system will provide.

Once we’ve made that business case, the next step is to deliver on the promise of NextGen. That means meeting our commitments for delivery milestones, system performance, and passenger safety.

It also means following through on the economic benefits that NextGen promises to deliver. ERAM is a great example of that. If you’re not familiar with ERAM, it’s the system that manages en route air traffic at altitudes above 10,000 feet. It’s a huge network spanning twenty FAA Air Route Traffic Control Centers nationwide. And it replaces a 40-year-old system with a new, modern framework that’s built with the future in mind.

There was a time when the program wasn’t going as well as we wanted it to. As a foundational program for NextGen we know how important it is to get it right – to deliver on our promise.

I’m pleased to report that today ERAM is up and running at eleven control centers nationwide. It’s managing a full two million square miles of airspace. And last October the Air Traffic Control Association awarded ERAM its 2012 Industrial Award for Outstanding Achievement in advancing the science of air traffic control.

The third step in making NextGen a success is to be adaptive to change when it comes our way.”

Those are the CEO’s most specific, positive statements on NextGen. Clearly, she has endorsed the concept of this innovative technological enhancement of the ATC.

She asserts that there is “the right data, right answers and right road map.” Her only question is whether the aviation industry is telling the right story to the public about this investment of $18 billion. She does not really answer her rhetorical query.

Here’s one example of an effort to get the message to the taxpayers. Also, the National Journal fostered dialogue on this important public policy issue by calling for industry comment on the value of this program. In response thereto, the aviation leaders made some cogent comments. The selling of NextGen is a task which falls on the shoulders and clarion voice of new Secretary Foxx.

Recent statements by A4A and the GA community indicate that they are not as convinced as Lockheed Martin. The users have questions about the value of some of the NextGen specific suplements, about the individual operator’s cost to install the necessary on-board equipment and the additional taxes which would be collected to pay the governmental share.

The Washington Biz Journal headline suggests that Lockheed Martin’s CEO is “buying into” NextGen. If that phrase is meant to infer the company’s capital, Ms. Hewson’s speech does not come close to committing its equity. This is in contrast to other major aerospace companies that have committed to capitalize NextGen. That’s buy in!

Very nice speech, Ms. Hewson, but will Lockheed Martin do as the headline suggests and put its money into NextGen? If not, her speech does not meet Shakespeare’s Macbeth standard.

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