Scorecard: Aviation Safety Prognosis For 2016

2016 aviation safety predictions
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Our 2015 Prognosis Examined

Were We Right About 2016?

 Yellow  = Correct
 Purple  = Incorrect
 Green  = Unclear

Originally posted on December 30, 2015 by Sandy Murdock

Aviation has enough variables involved that using terms like “prediction” or “forecast” connote more certainty than is merited. Instead the word “prognosis” is used because it is often used with visions of the future made by wizards and sorcerers; their magical talents are more appropriate for the guessing needed for over-the-horizon vision to see 2016’s aviation future. Take these prognostications with all of the reliability ascribed to practitioners of the occult arts (that’s not a slur on economists ;-)):

1. The Reauthorization Bill will not pass by the March deadline

This is not to say that the 23 extensions record is at risk, but a lot must be done technically (NEPA and procurement applicability to a new ATO; its liability if privatized; the formula for setting any fair user fee; etc.) and politically (Privatization in any form faces a formidable opposition) before a enactable version is before the Congress. The time between 01/01/2016 and the deadline is too short to resolve all of those issues. There may be consensus by Spring. Chairman Shuster has shown that he can effectively manage bipartisan issues. But the differences here do not separate at the aisles in both the House and Senate.

→ The passage of a 2016 Reauthorization Bill may be further complicated if the PBOR2 and FCAA are included and draw opposition.       

2. The next 12 months will continue the safety trend of 2015

Due to the deepening of the SMS discipline among that already part of the program and the extension of this advanced safety technique to other segments, the results of 2016 will exceed the standards set in 2015. (Yes, this wizard is superstitious; thus the somewhat circuitous wording of this prognosis.) [Note: this is essentially a repeat of a similar trend extension made months ago based on SMS.]

→ The data and qualitative observations point increasingly to the need to enhance the human performance. The FAA, airline’s, GA and the manufacturers will begin to devise and implement training, cockpit system enhancements which will add to pilot performance in flying.

3. The UAS Sector 

a.) Early resolution of pending legal/regulatory issues­­: The litigation of Part 48 will result in an FAA victory before US Court of Appeals; even though registration really accomplishes little other than drone owners annoyance. A final version of Part 107 will be issued earlier than expected, but the thousands of pages of comments will result in few or no changes from the NPRM. Congress will be able to do little as to either of these rules: too many conflicting opinions as to both and Reauthorization will consume the Hill players’ attention.

b.) Drone Nation will continue its technology development and due to new safety features, the rules will allow more flexibilityWhat will happen is that technology will continue to innovate as to the vehicles and their uses. The engineers will release new capabilities as to safety—“sense and avoid,” low level ATC and other aspects). Many of the safety limits in Part 107 are based on the absence of these features, but the FAA may adopt a new performance-based set of operational rules (if the UAS has “sense and avoid,” then the following Part 107 restrictions do not apply…)

c.) 333 grants will migrate from cookie cutter approach to a risk-based grantCurrently if an applicant files for an exemption to perform commercial operations, the FAA grant recites exactly the same set of conditions without regard to whether the proposed flight will fly over a cornfield or an urban area. That response was necessitated by the inundation of requests. Now that the staff can reflect a little, they may adopt the same approach as SMS uses to evaluate risks and address them. The level of safety would be increased by the specificity of the review and the operational freedom would benefit.

4. NOISE and the Environment — something is going to happen – 2016 may be a defining year

a.) ICAO is slated to decide what the global targets for CO2 will be set for the aviation sector. The EU has high expectations for very exacting standards and others vehemently disagree. Given the historic ICAO deliberative, consensus approach, a moderate goal is the most probable outcome.

b.) There is a strong domestic coalition focused on changing the FAA’s historic measurement of noise: The Quiet Skies Caucus and the supporters of the FCAA approach will try to include their different policies and metrics enacted as part of the FAA Reauthorization bill. There may be a need to revise the FAA noise analysis due to RNP and NextGen, but more work needs to be done before a new statute or regulation is implemented. Prognosis: in 2016 the FAA will propose some new noise standards.

5. Part 23 becomes effective and GA thrives

According to some recent statements, the revision of the small aircraft certification process and criteria (actually how they are applied) is expected before the end of 2015. Hopefully the expectation that this innovative regulatory approach will produce a new generation of safer, less costly and exciting aircraft will stimulate sales in 2017 or late 2016.

6. NextGen, expect the unexpected and the problems are not just technical

a.) The FAA has publicized schedules of what NextGen elements will be implemented for the foreseeable future—with locations, software/equipment/procedures and dates. Multiple DOT IG audits and testimony as well as the occasional GAO critique portend problems; it is a complex technology task with several state-of-art developments and massive integration problems.

b.) While these hiccups are disturbing, but not lethal, the greatest risks involve the development of a cost/benefit analysis and the absence of industry consensus on the need to pay for all of the “bells and whistles”, in particular ADS-B.

7. The next iteration of Part 91 — Uber and planes

Those, who remember how the private sector created “fractional ownership” under Part 91 and then the FAA reacted, will share the observation that the Uber phenomenon will find a Part 91 equivalent. The recent loss in the courts by Flytenow may result in the FAA’s willingness to design a solution rather than continue to respond to industry initiatives? A legally acceptable and economically viable structure could further stimulate the sale of GA planes and their flying.

8. PBOR2 and new Compliance Policy mature = a new FAA enforcement regime

If Senator Inhofe’s 2nd iteration of expanding due process for FAA certificate holders, the FAA will have to reeducate their attorneys on the development and trial of these case. Even more so, the maturation of the Administrator’s New Compliance policy will be very impactful. There will be increasingly creative and ever more remedial solutions proposed and accepted. The days of six figure civil penalty are over$!$!$ WATCH this space in 2016.

9. Greater scrutiny of Foreign CAAs by ICAO, the FAA (IASA) and the EU = tension and need for assistance

The Nation included in its 2015 major business key events, ICAO’s shock about the deficiencies found with Thailand’s CAA and other countries’ aviation safety authorities. All of the highlighted accidents of 2015 (except the Germanwings pilot’s insane crash) involved countries in this region. The future growth in international operations will be found in Asia and South America. It is likely that ICAO, the FAA and EASA will intensify their scrutiny to assure that these CAAs are competent enough to meet their obligations under the Chicago Convention requirements. The UN organization has already identified the African region as needing its attention.

10. Last year of a Presidential Administration will likely be marked by personnel changes and policy modifications — BEWARE

Though the Administrator and Deputy Administrator/Chief NextGen Officers hold five year terms(49 USC §106(a),(7)) [both end in 2018], the temptation to leave during this lame duck period is high. Given that both are dedicated to the FAA Mission, they will likely stay. Other political appointments in DoT, OMB and other relevant Executive Branch offices may be persuaded to resume private sector positions. Any changes of key policy makers may result in new positions on highly politicized issues like UAS, user fees, ATC facility consolidations. In the last year of a term, Presidents may decide to tackle difficult issues, since reelection is no longer a consideration. The political turmoil associated with the race for the White House usually engenders some executive actions.

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