FAA ADMINISTRATOR SHOULD ASSURE THAT POLITICS CANNOT INFLUENCE AIR TRAFFIC DECISIONS

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ARTICLE:  Mica, Petri Charge FAA With Bowing To Political Pressure

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HAI, Congressman Mica and Congressman Petri have questioned the Acting FAA Administrator about the lines drawn for helicopter operations along the North Shore of Long Island. They have alleged that political influence may have been introduced into the drawing of this helicopter route.

The design of helicopter routes is as much art as it is science. The basic geometry of drawing lines from A to B becomes more complicated as you add the three dimensions of space. Those are objective criteria. The statute further complicates the exercise as efficiency and safety are included as criteria. While the terms are absolutes and they push the assessment to those illusory extremes, they are exceedingly ambiguous in definition. As you draft a line to the safety boundary, the efficiency coordinate suffers. This analysis is not linear, but spatial calculus.

Another normal FAA calculation in these assessments is noise. Psychoacoustics, the science of noise perception, is the most subjective of scientific measures. The FAA has developed methodology which attempts to rationalize this calculation. Given that the multivariate calculation with the points on the decisional chart are all interrelated, this is clearly the exercise of “artistic” judgment, at best.

That description becomes more complex when a political dimension is added. Calls placed by knowledgeable Congressional staffers to the right FAA people can impact “technical” decisions. As noted above, the AT equations for such route lines involve multiple objective and subjective criteria. Political pushing of those lines makes this a mess.

The FAA’s delineation of such helicopter routes is a complex, delicate process. The technical integrity of the issuance of each such decision contributes to the current and future acceptance of these sensitive decisions. If the North Long Island Route decision is tainted, the next sensitive AT determination will attract greater interventions from elected officials. Mr. Huerta would be well advised to examine what happened and if there were any extraneous forces in play, he should depoliticize what happened here. Without such cleansing, all future Air Traffic route processes will be dominated by the folks who work on Capitol Hill.

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