Real Reauthorization—some thoughts need Congressional Consideration before passage

FAA Reauthorization Congressional Consideration
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FAA Reauthorization Congressional Consideration

These questions suggest the current Reauthorization is not ready for final passage.

For two years, Chairman Shuster has led a thoughtful review of the FAA Reauthorization. The hearings and proposals have been chronicled:

[just a sampling of posts on this subject]

Much of the discussion has been about how can the FAA’s structure, budget, acquisition powers, authority to hire/fire and a number of other aspects of the organization could be improved. The debate has quickly evolved into corporatization, privatization and a bunch of other instant fixes. In the time left (the current FAA Bill will expire in September) and with the current battle lines drawn, none of these answers appears to have created a consensus on any one of these proposals that will result in a successful vote.

Perhaps, it is time to push the pause button and REALLY RECONSIDER what the FAA is and what the public demands from this aviation safety organization.

First, the organic legislation was written in 1938 and substantially revised in 1958. The number of accretions over the last ~80/~60 years are too many to count. Each new § has been added with little holistic consideration.

For example:

  • congress FAA Reauthorization Congressional ConsiderationWhat happens when Congress deleted “promote” from the FAA’s mission? How did that impact its ability to support US aviation broad?
  • nextgen FAA Reauthorization Congressional ConsiderationWhat real powers are statutorily assigned to the Chief NextGen Officer and should he/she be held accountable?
  • That’s just a quick sampling of “minor” additions with major unconsidered consequences; just ask the Members from PHX, SFO, DEN or even DCA about their vote to expedite the NEPA review of NextGen ATC modification!!!

Open the aperture of this assessment and ask some organic questions based on the FAA’s growth of responsibilities while its staffing (numbers and capabilities) have not:

  • The Congress added SPACE to the FAA’s authority, while the basic aerodynamics, power source, flight/trajectory and air traffic control have little in common with aviation.
  • faa reogranization reauthorizationThe transition from 100% surveillance regulatory regimen to SMS requires different skills, organization and geographic distribution (among other competencies & skills). Should the FAA be statutorily reorganized to be more modular in its mission deployment—adding and subtracting teams as needed?
  • Recent explosion of FAA’s practical scope suggests that the need for a more modular authority should be carefully considered in reauthorization; i.e.
    • UAS—the recreational may be manageable, but the commercial application; how will this added sector be regulated. Does Congress want the FAA to be involved with privacy, local criminal prosecution, establishment of drone free areas, national security, etc.?
    • Not too far behind will be even a more demanding use of the national airspace—flying cars and unpiloted aerial vehicles; Uber taxis relieving ground congestion but creating a need for aerial interstates.

national airspace FAA Reauthorization Congressional Consideration

  • All of these new uses will demand new ATC systems and Controllers/Applications.
  • Innovation will stimulate even more transformational uses of the NAS; not knowing what this new wave of flight will involve, the FAA Reauthorization must provide for greater flexibility in the statute.
  • The new performance-based aircraft certification standards and processes will “streamline” the proof of airworthiness for Part 23 and eventually Part 25, but will demand greater engineering competency within the FAA.
    • This new analytical rubric is also expected to stimulate innovation and number of TC/PC/A*WC applications.
  • Aviation is increasingly global—airlines with multiple flags, aircraft with parts/systems from multiple countries. Does the FAA have adequate authority to deal with these challenges?

osha FAA Reauthorization Congressional Consideration

department of transportation faa reauthorization

  • Airports have matured since 1938/1958; should their development be tied to the Trust fund? The FAA makes investment decisions based on benefit/cost assessments;airport aip grant assurances faa reauthorization should these transactions be taken off of the federal budget and processes? Is there capacity and capability to make these decisions?
    • Without FAA dollars should the AIP Grant Assurances be removed—immediately or gradually?
    • If ticket taxes are no longer feeding the Airport Trust, should the taxes be repealed?
  • Finally, there’s the pesky ATC issue. No one would seriously argue that NextGen has been an expedited, efficient process, but how many private sector projects have had the draconian processes that are required by federal laws and HELP from Congress. In the last 20 years, the FAA’s authority to manage the largest civil computer/infrastructure project has received multiple tweaks from its Board of Directors on Capitol Hill.
    • What specifically with AIRR fix that Congress has not already tried to fix?
    • AIRR (2016) professed to “corporatize” ATO, but any private sector spinoff would be guaranteed to fail with the employee transfer rules proposed.
    • AIRR may be conceptually brilliant (beyond Reason) but the details are wanting.

The above ruminations suggest that the current Reauthorization is not ready for final passage. In fact, the purpose of posing these questions is to reopen the Congressional consideration. 

The terms of AIRR largely point to Fast Forward. By looking at from whence the FAA came, the definition of the agency’s future should compel Congress to ask substantive authority questions.


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