Between Micheal Huerta and Bill Shuster
Ever since there was a Department of Transportation overseeing the Federal Aviation Administrator, the Secretary’s scribes generally review and rewrite the speeches of the Administrator. If you follow the texts of the persons who occupy the big office at 800 Independence Avenue, the words tend to be dull and bland, of little moment. The news media are, by design, supposed to focus on the words spoken by the Cabinet Member; in journalism school, it’s called message hierarchy.
Mr. Huerta frequently is invited by the Aero Club of Washington to brief the aviation community on what his organization is doing. As with most of his presentations, it is rare that the national press reports on his statement—by design. The media did not pick up the Administrator’s September 22 pronouncement, but there were some significant nuggets contained in his “Redefining Business As Usual” prepared text.
An imaginary conversation between the Administrator and the Chairman of the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee will serve as a vehicle to illustrate the impact of some of his key statements. The context of the conversation is the Chairman’s consideration of a new FAA Reauthorization Act of 2017. Each of the chats will begin with a quote of the Administrator’s text:
Administrator: “Now more than ever, aviation is an international – and interconnected – industry. When an airplane crashes, our entire community feels it. These tragedies don’t just happen in one country, or to one airline. They happen to all of us, and we share collectively in the loss.How do we prevent these incidents from occurring? How do we improve our processes and procedures? How do we make the world’s safest form of transportation even safer?…When you get down to it, that’s the true underlying product of our worldwide industry: safety….And if we’re going to continue raising the bar on safety, we have to get creative…Creativity has always kept aviation moving forward – pushing the boundaries of what’s possible.”
Chairman: What can I do to help?
Administrator: Clarifying that the FAA may promote Aviation, certainly in the international sphere would be a great help and convincing the Appropriations Committee to fund these programs would allow me to move forward.
Chairman: I will instruct my staff to work on that.
Administrator: “Three years ago, drones were – pardon the expression – barely a blip on our radar. Today, hardly a day goes by that I don’t deal with them. I’d even say there’s no better parallel for what’s happening in aviation as a whole than what’s happening with drones. Unmanned aircraft have gone from being a niche interest to an actual segment of aviation that’s growing at an unprecedented pace. ..The FAA needed to take action – to educate operators about airspace rules so they could fly safely, and to help law enforcement identify people who weren’t obeying the rules .We decided to create an online registration system for unmanned aircraft last October. And since we were looking ahead to a holiday season where drones were at the top of thousands of wish lists, it would have to be launched before Christmas – less than two months away. When we announced this ambitious schedule, I heard from a number of people – some in this room – who thought we’d made a promise we couldn’t keep. After all, government isn’t supposed to be able to work on that kind of timeline.”
Chairman: Do you think that you can actually enforce these rules with the registered fleet at 500,000 driving soon to a million?
Administrator: I am told that I can do nicely with my current Flight Standards staff and with the addition of the DoD responsibilities in space.
Chairman: The record should reflect that the witness, while answered “yes” to my question, would say NO if he was under the influence of sodium pentothal. Let me add to my probing question: is the answer still yes when the soon-to-be proliferating flying cars and hybrid airships come into the FAA’s jurisdiction?
Administrator: Based on how you amended my last answer, do I need to reply?
Chairman: The record should reflect that the witness, blah, blah….
Administrator: “Getting it done required some outside-the-box thinking within the FAA. We didn’t let well-worn internal processes dictate how we’d achieve our goal. Instead, we charted new paths. We solicited advice from a task force of heavy-hitters from the aviation and technology industries. Daily meetings between employees at every level of the agency improved coordination and allowed for real-time troubleshooting. And it turned out that a bit of chaos and uncertainty, coupled with an immovable deadline, was a pretty powerful focusing mechanism. Our drone registration system was up and running before Santa could start his annual flight. Nine months later, more than 550,000 users have registered. To put that in perspective, we only have 320,000 registered manned aircraft – and it took us 100 years to get there. This success is a testament to how much can be achieved when government and industry work together.”
Chairman: Again, I am impressed with the FAA’s ability to move quickly (remember that you missed our deadline for a final rule by a year); is there anything that Congress should do to allow the FA to move its regulatory processes at the speed of innovation?
Administrator: That’s a good observation, Mr. Chairman. The Administrative Procedure Act should be revisited to see if the rules and timelines can be expedited. I am no lawyer, but you have a big team of statute writers maybe they can design rules for the FAA, as sort of a test case for a new INTERNET NPRM process.
Chairman: Good idea; staff get to work on it.
Administrator: “Last week, we took a step to formalize that partnership with the first meeting of our Drone Advisory Committee. The DAC is chaired by Intel CEO Brian Krzanich and includes representatives from the technology and aviation industries, labor organizations, and state and local governments. I’ve asked this committee to help us prioritize our unmanned aircraft integration activities, including the development of future regulations and policies.”
Chairman: Does it need any tweaking?
Administrator: Better funding and some greater latitude to bring in expertise other than on a volunteer basis—maybe to pay for consultants.
Chairman: Great idea; again my staff should see how we can add to these bridges between the regulators and the regulated. The meetings bring timely technical to the FAA staff that is writing the rules and provide effective forums for assessing the practicality of rules.
Administrator: Actually, NASA’s original name was the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. That’s not a recommendation to change our name to the Federal Advisory Committee on Aviation, but there may be lessons to be learned from the statute, its structure and utilization of the external consultants.
Chairman: Mr. Administrator, you are filled with a lot of good ideas. We should talk more often.
Administrator: “NextGen is nothing less than the reinvention of the way we manage air traffic. It touches every phase of flight – from takeoff, to navigation, to landing. But the thing about a transformative project like NextGen is: it’s not easy. One of my predecessors compared it to changing the tire on a moving car. I’d amend that slightly. It’s like changing the engine on a moving jetliner. At altitude. If you want to get a big project right, you need time and you need resources. But just as important, you need buy-in from a wide variety of stakeholders. These foundational pieces are now in place. We upgraded the computer platform that had its roots in the 1960s. We installed ground infrastructure nationwide to support satellite-based aircraft tracking, and we launched a $10 million rebate program this week that will make it easier for general aviation pilots to equip their planes to take advantage of it. The good news is that we’re on track to meet our NextGen objectives by 2025. But NextGen is delivering real, measurable benefits today – for airlines, for businesses, and for the American people. And it’s happening at an accelerated pace that’s being driven by industry needs.”
Chairman: Mr. Administrator thanks for reminding me of the setback we suffered on corporatization. That’s an issue which my staff and I are spending A LOT OF TIME. Anything else?
Administrator: “For a long time, the FAA told manufacturers how to build a safe airplane. We required specific technologies with precise design elements. But this system became strained as the industry evolved. Manufacturers kept coming to us with new ideas, and our certification processes struggled to keep up. We made some improvements around the edges over the years, but they were often incremental and independent from one another. It became obvious that we needed to overhaul our approach to certifying aircraft if we wanted to increase safety and to help products get to market faster. We currently have a final rule in executive review that would rewrite our small airplane certification standards – better known as Part 23. There’s a simple idea at the heart of it: The FAA doesn’t want to tell manufacturers how to build things. We’re not in the engineering business, and we can’t assume we have all the answers about the best way to develop an aircraft. Our business is safety – and the new Part 23 recognizes that. Instead of requiring certain technologies or designs, it will define the performance objectives we want to achieve. This is a fundamental shift for our agency. We’re not waiting around to find the best way to respond to a specific innovation. We’re creating an organization that can respond nimbly and flexibly to any innovation. Most importantly, this approach lets the dreamers and innovators do what they do best. We don’t want bureaucratic red tape to hamper their progress. On the contrary: we want to support it. And that’s a message I’ve been taking to every office – at every level – of the FAA.”
Chairman: The Part 23 tardiness would be fixed if we worked to add to your INTERNET NPRM and Advisory Committee suggestions?
Administrator: That might help, though we had a VERY HELPFUL Advisory Committee on the aircraft certification. But the delay had something to do with the need for Lasix eye surgery among some myopic individuals and the external help we get.
Chairman: Thanks, your speech and our little conversation have been most illuminating. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2917 may well include some of your suggestions.
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