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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedBabbitt aces first Meet the Administrator session
By James Wynbrandt, EAA AirVenture Today
  

 Photos by Craig Vander Kolk
FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt talked about issues at his first Meet the Administrator forum at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2009.

July 30, 2009 - Oshkosh, Wisconsin  - Newly appointed FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt took the podium at the Honda Pavilion today for his first AirVenture Meet the Administrator forum. Babbitt began his opening remarks by stating his EAA membership number to loud applause.

"The EAA never does anything small," Babbitt continued. "There are 10,000 airplanes and 500,000 visitors. And where else can you tailgate under a (Cessna) 172 or (an Airbus) A380?

"If you want to see the grassroots of aviation, you have to come to Oshkosh!"

Babbitt himself has an impressive resume, as EAA President and Chairman Tom Poberezny asked him to recount for the forum audience.

After earning his certificate at age 16, Babbitt worked as a certificated flight instructor during college and later flew for Eastern Air Lines (EAL), piloting aircraft including the Douglas DC-9, Boeing B-727, and Airbus A300. He later moved on from EAL to serve as president of the Air Line Pilots Association before starting an aviation-consulting business and serving on the FAA's Management Advisory Council.

He won Senate confirmation and was sworn in as the FAA's 16th administrator on June 1.

The celebratory, feel-good atmosphere his confirmation helped generate continued through Babbitt's remarks.

Contentious issues that have dominated previous administrator forums-medical certification, user fees, LSA rules-are not in the forefront of aviation concerns this year.

Babbitt concentrated on addressing improvements in GA safety and future technology that is hoped will continue that trend.

"The safety story has become a good story in general aviation," Babbitt said. "The numbers of fatal accidents are down substantially, and if anyone thinks it's because flying hours are down, that's not the case; the rates themselves are coming down."

Among the safety stats Babbitt highlighted:

So far this year, fatal accident rates are down 12 percent over two years ago, and over the past three years fatal CFIT (controlled flight into terrain) accidents are down more than half. Approach and landing accidents are down 20 percent, weather-related accidents are down 40 percent, and night accidents are down 25 percent.

Babbitt attributed some of the safety improvements to glass panel technology, which provides pilots with better information and improved situational awareness.

Babbitt also acknowledged that GA flight hours have declined.

"Fuel prices and the economic downturn are contributing factors, you already know that," Babbitt said, while warning the trend could have a negative impact on safety.

"You can't stay sharp if you're not flying regularly.

"We've got to find an extra way to maintain sharpness," he said. "That is a key factor in maintaining currency and proficiency."

Babbitt next turned to runway incursions and noted significant improvement in incursion incidents, which he attributed to the FAA's initiative to improve runway signage along with recent educational efforts aimed at pilots.

Runway incursions are down 7 percent this year, and serious incursions have declined 70 percent over last year, according to the administrator. Nonetheless, he said the incursion rate, currently running at two per day, "leaves a lot of room to improve."

Babbitt said the FAA will aggressively expand its anti-incursion efforts.

"You'll see new technology. We're evaluating low-cost runway safety systems we can incorporate in many smaller airports," Babbitt said.

"It's a huge step forward."

But Babbitt noted pilots need to take responsibility, as well.

"We can do a lot with technology, but we can't do anything about inattentiveness and casual distractions (in the cockpit)," Babbitt said. "The time to understand the runway layout is not on short final. Take time to brief yourself; look at airport charts."

As for misunderstanding air traffic control instructions, "all you have to do is say, 'I didn't understand.' It's simple things, common sense things," Babbitt said.

Babbitt encouraged audience members to take advantage of safety materials the FAA has developed and made available on its website. "I implore you to download and use them," he said.

Turning to LSA (light-sport aircraft), Babbitt noted that the FAA had taken "a little leap of faith" in certificating the new category of aircraft, "but the LSA manufacturers are holding themselves to the highest standards, and really made it work.

"It's a real credit to the whole industry."

He noted that LSA accident rates are generally in line with the rates seen in other segments of GA while affirming that "the FAA and industry are continuing to upgrade LSA standards."

"The bottom line," Babbitt said, "LSA is a healthy industry and all indications are it will stay that way."

Tom Poberezny took a moment to laud FAA Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety Peggy Gilligan for her pivotal role in developing the LSA category and standards.

NextGen, the FAA's broad program to bring aviation into the 21st century, was also on Babbitt's agenda Thursday.

"The perception is, it's simply an airline program, but that's not true," Babbitt said.

"The entire aviation community will benefit."

ADS-B will form the backbone of the system, and Babbitt noted that 20,000 aircraft are already equipped to take advantage of LPV (lateral precision with vertical guidance) procedures for instrument landings. Last year 417 LPV procedures were commissioned; this year's goal is 500.

"Today there are more LPV approaches than ILS approaches," Babbitt said. "There's no reason we shouldn't have horizontal and vertical guidance to 2,000 more airports than we do today. The fact is, NextGen gets you into places that before would have been out of reach."

Babbitt acknowledged a number of avionics manufacturers are holding back from entering the marketplace, presumably until technical standards for equipment are finalized.

Babbitt did not address the subject of user fees, which has been a point of contention over efforts to fund the NextGen system.

Babbitt concluded his remarks with a direct appeal to audience members.

"As pilots, we're held to very high standards, based on safety," Babbitt said. "What I'm talking is one step beyond regulations.

"There are no rules in the FARs about professionalism," Babbitt said in concluding his remarks. "Really be focused on professionalism. You should be a safe professional at all times."

Photo by Craig Vander Kolk
Randy Babbitt, FAA administrator, presents the FAA Master Pilot award to EAA Founder Paul Poberezny. Audrey gives her husband a congratulatory hug.

Babbitt recognizes Paul Poberezny as 'Master Pilot'

EAA AirVenture plays host to numerous award ceremonies and a variety of recognition moments every year, but it's not often that an FAA administrator gets to present a piloting award to the recipient.

But in a brief pause during the early moments of his first time participating in the fly-in's Meet the Administrator session, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt took a moment to depart from his prepared remarks to bestow an FAA Master Pilot award to the man who made AirVenture possible, EAA founder Paul Poberezny.

Before presenting the award, Babbitt recounted highlights of Poberezny's illustrious career in aviation, including his induction in the National Aviation Hall of Fame, winner of the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy, and being the only military pilot in history to earn all seven wings the services offer.

Following a brief slide show illustrating his career in aviation, Paul Poberezny, along with his wife, Audrey, came onstage to accept the award amidst sustained applause, as the audience rose to its feet.

Master Pilot Paul H. Poberezny, congratulations.

 

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