Is FAA’s Caribbean Focus the Best Choice?

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FAA’s Caribbean Initiative

Would Africa Have Been A Better Choice?

FAA Press Release

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Huerta today outlined the gency’s Caribbean Initiative with media and international stakeholders.

“The Caribbean region is of critical importance to the United States,” Administrator Huerta said. “By working together, we are building a foundation of increased cooperation that will allow us to enhance safety and efficiency throughout a region that serves as a destination for so many travelers.”

Air traffic in the Caribbean is expected to grow rapidly – as much as five to six percent over the next two decades. The region is second only to the Middle East in terms of aviation growth. More than 17 percent of international flights departing from the United States are headed for destinations in the Caribbean. Many more flights transit Caribbean airspace between North and South America. This represents millions of passengers from all over the region and the world.

Through its Caribbean Initiative, the FAA’s technical experts work with their Caribbean partners and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to increase airport safety and certification in the region and to improve air traffic flow management through collaborative decision-making. The initiative also supports the region’s implementation of ICAO.

Administrator Huerta announced several months ago that he was initiating a Global Leadership Initiative (GLI) and set as the broad goals of that effort in this table:


Strategic planning, somewhat like SMS, involves decisions among alternatives— definition and prioritization of goals and tactics as well as the allocation of dollars, resources and personnel. The above articulation of the FAA’s GLI clearly established safety/environment as the factors to be favored.

This recent press release pointed the FAA’s focus at the Caribbean Area. To support this selection, the FAA cited these factors:

The Caribbean is a critical nexus for the U.S. airspace system

More than 7 million passengers fly from the United States to the Caribbean each year, accounting for nearly 17 percent of all U.S. outbound passengers.

Millions of Americans travel to the Caribbean each year and air traffic in the Caribbean region is expected to grow rapidly by five to six percent over the next two decades, second only to the Middle East.

Air traffic management is complex and requires extensive coordination among air navigation partners. The region includes 10 air traffic service providers managed by separate sovereign nations.  Half a million aircraft cross one of the six flight regions adjacent to the U.S.

Varying tropical weather patterns and the complexity of a multitude of airports contribute to air traffic schedule uncertainty and delays within the region.

U.S. carriers have begun to operate scheduled passenger service Cuba.

faa caribbean economy

The FAA’s criteria in setting goals and choosing the Caribbean appear to ignore the potential economic value of this investment, based on the below expert assessments of this geographic sector’s growth and future contribution to global GDP:

The Royal Bank of Canada concluded that the Caribbean’s prospects are not positive:

“While there is optimism with the incipient recovery in the OECS, there is no reason to believe that the latent sources of vulnerability and volatility in the region have subsided” and as such, the benefits of current growth rates, may be short-lived. But what are these sources of vulnerability and volatility? And how do we mitigate them? The study found that growth volatility in the Caribbean is driven largely by exogenous shocks such as adverse terms of trade shocks, the decline in official foreign assistance, economic downturn in major trading partners, and recurrent natural disasters. But compounding these is the pro-cyclicality of fiscal policy in the Caribbean, which amplifies the business cycle, and leaves Governments less able to compensate during recessions. The introduction of fiscal responsibility laws and fiscal rules which promote counter-cyclical fiscal policy, the building up of fiscal buffers, and lower debt, are all key to solving the growth, vulnerability, and volatility problem therefore. In addition, financial sector weakness and underdevelopment were found to be key drivers of vulnerability and volatility in the Caribbean.

Without access to the internal documents which establish the basis for the choice of the Caribbean, it appears that it was based on eleemosynary grounds. That is certainly an acceptable policy basis, but a SWOT review should have examined the comparable initiative of the EU/EASA. The Pan European organization appears to have weighed its direction on industrial and trade benefits.

According to Airport World,“[t]he strategy in based on a long-term vision for the air transport sector, with a primary focus on improved connectivity, enhanced competitiveness and effective sustainability.”

The EC/EU/EASA (the EC is the author, but the other two pan-European organizations will be involved in implementation) unveiled a major promotional aviation initiative called an “Aviation Strategy for Europe” on December 7. This marketing campaign’s goal is “to bolster the continent’s €110 billion aviation sector” by negotiating new international relationships with other countries. The target of this sales effort is new “air transport agreements, revising safety regulations and investing in new technology.”

Olivier Jankovec, director General of ACI Europe, commented that this package is a set of actions aimed at opening up access to key external markets and addressing capacity problems in the air and at airports, all while maintaining the highest levels of safety and security. He said that “The Commission has gotten it right – taking stock of the increasing strategic relevance of air connectivity for our economy.”

faa caribbean initiativeThe changes in regulations, mentioned above (particularly Mr. Jankovec’s comments), are particularly worrisome. The EC/EASA has been very aggressive in finding that foreign carriers, not the relevant civil aviation authorities, are prohibited from flying within the European Continent. Its Black List is a long list of prohibited airlines. Does the “Aviation Strategy for Europe” translate to watering down its existing safety parameters? A more basic question is whether these sovereign-to-sovereign audits, performed by ICAO and multiple CAAs, make good policy sense to begin with? [EASA Announces Strategy To Promote Global Presence While FAA CAN’T]

One can infer that the Europeans are assigning their strategic resources to the Middle East, and North Arica, East Asia and the Pacific and Sub-Saharan Africa (see above World Bank chart) all of which have better future growth estimates.

faa caribbean initiative

This is not to suggest that the FAA should abandon its lofty goals of trying to improve the safety, AT efficiency and greenness of the selected area. What is confusing is that ICAO and Secretary Foxx have identified Africa as a continent with needs similar to the Caribbean, but as a sector which has great growth potential. The Europeans appear to have included Return on Investment as a consideration in their strategic plan. Perhaps such a win/win alternative is acceptable.

The Administrator’s GLI, by selecting Africa, could have both met the goals established by the FAA  and have had some prospect that the federal dollars spent there could eventually result in the African countries engaging in some reciprocal actions. These might include win/win results like:

  • adopting the FARs (or something akin thereto),
  • the implementation of the NextGen parameters,
  • purchase of American AT equipment and aircraft, and
  • flights between these resource rich countries and the US in support of mutual economic development projects.

There is no reason why the US foreign policy must only provide aid. There is nothing improper is establishing foreign relations which have mutual benefits. The Caribbean may be a good #1 target; might not have Africa been better? Strategic planning orders its priorities based on available information and the rationale which supports the final decision. It would be interesting to see if Africa was considered and if yes, why the Caribbean was the better option.


FAA Administrator Focuses on the Caribbean
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2 Comments on "Is FAA’s Caribbean Focus the Best Choice?"

  1. Further justification for Africa as a target–

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