August 6, 2009 - Oshkosh, Wisconsin
Newly appointed FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt projected the calm assurance of a seasoned agency veteran during his various presentations at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2009. Whether speaking at a news conference on AeroShell Square, in an AirVenture forum, or in meetings with various general-aviation principals, Babbitt was comfortable in his role. A previous visitor to Oshkosh, Babbitt is an aviation enthusiast, a private pilot, a former flight instructor, and an EAA member.
In a brief, one-on-one meeting with EAA, Babbitt conveyed a consistent theme: his desire to discuss, learn more, debate, collaborate, and discover sound solutions. Far from a comprehensive investigation of his position on the numerous regulatory issues confronting general aviation, EAA’s discussion with Babbitt nonetheless yielded some interesting statements:
On EAA AirVenture Oshkosh:
I’m more impressed every year. It’s a place where, if you want to feel that passion of aviation, you just have to come here. You can’t describe it. I don’t think you can take enough pictures to show people how much happens here. It preserves so much of the culture of aviation. It’s a great place. If it has flown, is flying, or may fly in the future, it’s probably here.
On his first 60 days in office:
It’s been exciting. The good news is there’s a terrific corps of people at the FAA. The employees of the FAA are just fantastic. My one regret is that they don’t often get the recognition that they deserve. We do a million things correctly every day: 70,000 operations every day, 753 million people we carry every year without getting them hurt. One accident is one too many -- but, boy, one accident sure makes the front page. What gets overlooked is all the incredible things we do. It’s an incredibly safe system, and we’re keeping our focus there.
On managing air-transport and general-aviation traffic:
Some of the things we’re going to do with the next generation of navigational systems -- how we space aircraft and separate them ‑‑ will improve our system and make it more efficient. I’m excited about the potential of NextGen to provide approaches at literally thousands of new airports. We could not afford to put ILS approaches into another thousand airports. But with satellite navigation systems, those processes will allow us to design approaches at thousands of airports. General aviation is going to be safer and more efficient as a result.
On funding the FAA and the national air traffic control system:
At one time we had a system that got a lot of its money from the general fund. The American taxpayer paid a reasonable amount of money because of what aviation does.… Trillions of dollars go into our economy because of aviation.
When aviation boomed, the amount of money available to it from the general fund was reduced, because aviation was prospering so much. Now, however, we see just the reciprocal. Passenger traffic is off, ticket prices are down, people are flying less in their GA aircraft, aviation fuel has been expensive, and it’s not a robust economy, to say the least. And we now have many more efficient aircraft burning less fuel, meaning the fuel excise tax generates less revenue.
So, we have a problem. All those things together have taken away from all the sources that we’ve used to fund our whole federal aviation system. Maybe we should return to having the general fund pay more for it, quite bluntly.
I think we will find a consensus; I haven’t heard the perfect answer yet. If I had, you’d be hearing it.
We need some stabilizing and continuity. If you look at user fees, they’re not any less immune to those ups and downs than anything else I’ve mentioned.
On general aviation security requirements
There definitely is a role the FAA can play in cultivating a better understanding of GA among the agencies tasked with securing our nation’s transportation systems.
I’d like to meet with a confirmed administrator of the Transportation Security Administration, which is a pending appointment. We have thoughts to share. We see there are some choke points here and there, and we’re certainly getting feedback from the GA community. The goal is a safe and secure aviation system. Our hope is to see the agencies come up with something that is a lot better than what we’re doing today.
On the sport pilot, light-sport aircraft movement:
It was a bold experiment to let an industry regulate itself. FAA said, “Fine, you live up to those standards.” And they have done it. The statistics support it. Accident ratios support it. And now there are 8,100 of these aircraft! To bring aviation to young and old, anyone who wants to learn to fly, you’ve got to put it closer within their reach. That’s what sport pilot does. It’s a grand experiment, and a successful one.
On the controversial and recently released FAA interpretation preventing students from applying the instruction they received from a sport pilot (only) instructor toward their private pilot training:
We’re going to go back and take a look at it. The good news is that only 400 or so instructors fall in this category. We have some 50,000 other instructors whose time counts. It doesn’t mean, however, that we won’t go back and take a look at it for the sport-pilot-only instructors. This is one of the areas where I’m glad we can interface openly with the EAA and other organizations. You’ve pointed out something that, even though we understand what the intent was, you’ve said let’s take another look at this. We will. And we welcome the spotlight on something that could be a problem.