The Administrator traveled to Wichita, KS recently to speak to the Aero Club there. His topics were matters of great interest to aviation, but perhaps most significantly, one of the industry’s most respected leaders gave him a strong endorsement in the introduction.
Mr. Huerta’s introduction was delivered by Jack Pelton, past Chair of Cessna Aircraft and currently Chair of the Experimental Aircraft Association. Mr. Pelton is generally regarded as one of aviation’s most prominent leaders. The Wichita resident recited the head of the FAA’s impressive resume (UC Riverside, BA; Princeton University, MPA; NYC Department of Ports; Executive Director, Port of San Francisco; US DoT under Secretaries Peña and Slater; Managing Director 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics Organizing Committee; Group President of the Transportation Solutions Group at Affiliated Computer Services).
In his introduction, Pelton made it clear that the FAA’s highest officer is straightforward and personable. He summed up the speaker with the following observation “[Huerta] is an authentic leader and a wonderfully genuine person.”
The main speech included three major pronouncements, two about delays in the issuance of NPRMs long-awaited by the GA industry and one denying that a mandate will be delayed (the pilots and manufacturers of these aircraft have requested that this compliance with a rule should be extended).
The Administrator articulated a lengthy and thorough justification for the 2020 deadline for all aircraft to be equipped with ADS-B equipment. His bottom line (contrary to other reports by trade press that the date was “shaky”) was very clear:
“The answer is no – the date is set – so I want to strongly encourage you to make plans to get equipped as soon as possible. You don’t want to end up grounded in the early months of 2020 because of a parts or installation delay.”
His second major point was more nebulous. He recited the history of the FAA certification standards and actions. Application of the old rules was a relatively “black and white” exercise. The proposed amendment/revision to Part 23 was described in the Administrator’s speech as follows:
“We knew we needed to find a better way to increase safety, certify more efficiently, and help bring more products to market. We quickly realized that the answer was to change our mindset. Instead of being prescriptive, we needed to be performance-based.
Instead of requiring certain design elements on specific technologies, we knew we needed to define the safety outcomes we wanted to achieve. This approach recognizes that there’s more than one way to deliver on safety – and it provides room for flexibility and innovation in the marketplace.”
These words convey the transformative nature of this delayed regulatory project. Without specifically saying so, the complexity of the transition is hinted at as the reason why the rule-writers are having writers’ block. He added the following observation:
“’Instead of being prescriptive, we need to be performance-based to provide room for flexibility and innovation in the marketplace.’
Aviation has always been about managing risk, he said. The FAA, in contrast, has always been about developing standards and ensuring that those standards are met. ‘It’s easy to be a cop in a black-and-white regulatory environment.’ But aviation risk is not black and white. That’s why the FAA’s new approach will be to ‘interpret shades of gray.’”
The use of the shades of gray in the regulatory world may be a signal that the future Part 23 interpretative process will take longer than the old “black and white” regime.
The third theme of the Wichita speech was delay in the issuance of GA medical certificates NPRM. AOPA has made it clear that one of its primary policy goals is to delete the need for a medical review to fly GA aircraft. At several recent Congressional hearings, that objective has been made quite clear; they argue that a driver’s license should be the only requirement. Part of their assertion points to an increase in pilots would result in more flying and that would lead to more GA aircraft being sold. The Administrator, whose sole focus is SAFETY, sees the issue through a different lens; he said:
“I know one of the most important issues on everyone’s mind here today is the third-class medical certificate. The FAA is working to define how a person can fly without a third-class medical certificate while maintaining the highest level of safety.
We want to make this a lasting policy change that encourages more people to get their pilot certificates and invest in general aviation aircraft. We also have to acknowledge that a change to medical requirements could introduce risks into the system that we need to understand and mitigate.
Please know: we’re working diligently to get a proposal out so all interested stakeholders have an opportunity to weigh in.”
Reading between the lines, that says that the FAA is not comfortable with a rule which places the determination of the pilot’s health on the pilot. The line, beginning with “[t]he FAA is working to define how a person can fly…” and ending with “…the highest level of safety”, may be code for the agency safety experts are searching for another standard. The timeline for research and then rulemaking suggests no action soon.
The delivery by the Administrator of three difficult messages in one speech may not result in an invitation to come back to Wichita soon, but his candor was a breath of fresh air. Well said Mr. Administrator, well said!