Obscure Administration Appointment may Affect Aviation Safety Rulemaking

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ARTICLE: Washington and business brace for an Obama wave of regulations


A “perfectly” safe airplane would never take off– no Wright Brothers and no Lindbergh flight to Paris. There is risk involved in much of daily life and transportation operates in all modes on a 24/7/365 worldwide basis with a high level of safety.

The FAA’s mission is to design and implement rules which minimize the risks inherent in aviation. Its charter also acknowledges that its regulations must attain the highest levels of safety on a reasonable basis. For many years, any proposed regulation must be assessed by a Benefit/Cost Analysis which is administered by the OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. The above interesting article points to a number of factors which could result in a “wave” of regulations.

The application of the B/CA economic test has been a source of controversy in the OIRA’s approval of rules like Flight and Duty Time. The hard analyses of proposed new requirements of flight requirements have, throughout aviation history, been implicitly or explicitly a test of whether the higher standard was justified. This analysis has proved to be a valid method to assess the relative merits of a proposed safety requirement.

The Administrator of OIRA resigned and The Hill article explains the significance of his departure:

Just how aggressively Obama’s White House will push its regulatory agenda remains to be seen. One major clue will be the person he selects to take the helm of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) — a position often described as the gatekeeper of federal rules.

An acting administrator has filled the regulatory post since the departure of Cass Sunstein in August. Sunstein, an academic, put large stock in cost-benefit analysis and was seen as cautious in his approach to federal rules — much to the frustration of Obama’s liberal supporters, who felt action was too slow.

Whatever the philosophy of the next permanent administrator, a slew of new rules — particularly on Dodd-Frank and healthcare — are already in motion, and all sides will be watching closely to see how far they go.

Aviation’s rulemaking has a well-developed history of B/C analyses tests, an excellent record of judicial review of those tests and an excellent safety rate. A new OIRA Administrator may alter the balance between worthwhile additions to aviation safety and unnecessary burdens.

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