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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS Feed Administrator looks ahead as FAA reels

By JAMES WYNBRANDT
FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt
FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt addressed general aviation issues and answered questions Thursday.
PHOTO BY HILARY LAWRENCE

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt appeared at AirVenture’s annual Meet the Administrator forum yesterday, as the agency reeled from Friday’s expiration of the 20th short-term funding Congress has approved since 2007 in lieu of passage of a comprehensive FAA reauthorization bill.

“I made a big point of coming here because I have so much respect for the dedication and enthusiasm that people have at this event,” Babbitt, a longtime pilot and Oshkosh attendee, told the full house at the Honda Pavilion.

A here-and-now funding crisis
As a result of the funding crisis, Babbitt said 4,000 employees have been furloughed, construction projects in progress have been halted, and the agency brought a smaller contingent to Oshkosh.

“This is the place where the FAA becomes personified to many of you—not a web link or a button on a phone, but real people working with real aviators,” the administrator said.

“So I personally regret we don’t have the presence we usually have. Unfortunately, it’s not business as usual. We need the team managing the ramifications of the furlough.”

Babbitt stressed that all safety-related services, like air traffic control, remain in place, segueing into a call for safety-focused professionalism among all pilots, which Babbitt has made a cornerstone of his tenure.

“Professionalism doesn’t require a paycheck,” Babbitt said. “When you take a passenger in your airplane and you are PIC, you have to accept the responsibility of carriage, and your responsibility to carry that person safely.”

Issues of the here-and-now nature
Turning to NextGen, the transformation of airspace and air traffic management from a ground-based to a satellite-based system, Babbitt said, “Some people think it’s about a far-off future. [But] NextGen is here—we’re already using it.”

As examples of NextGen now, Babbitt cited WAAS-enabled GPS approaches, and air traffic control services in non-radar environments in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.
Babbitt also addressed several other critical general aviation issues:

Avgas: Babbitt noted that aviation was the sole user of leaded gasoline, but expressed confidence that EPA exemptions would provide sufficient time to develop an acceptable usable replacement fuel.

BARR (Block Aircraft Registration Request): With the Department of Transportation’s decision to dismantle the BARR program, which allowed aircraft owners to block public access to information on their aircraft’s movement, upheld by the courts, Babbitt said the FAA had no choice but to comply with the ruling. (The EAA is supporting an appeal of the court’s ruling mounted by aviation’s alphabet groups.)

GPS Interference: Would-be Internet service provider LightSquared’s proposed ground-based mobile access network has been found capable of disrupting GPS signals. Babbitt expressed confidence the LightSquared system would not be deployed as currently designed. “I’m very comfortable in saying we’re going to protect the GPS signal,” Babbitt said.

FAA Reauthorization: Babbitt noted Congress has provided short-term funding authorization 20 times since 2007, and decried these stopgap solutions.

“Serial extensions are difficult,” he said. “You can’t do long-term projects. You can’t build a runway in a 30-day extension.

“That’s not the way to run the world’s finest aviation system.”

User Fees: Babbitt noted the current administration has not supported user fees, but “trying to solve the debt and deficit puts a lot of things on the table,” and he noted that ultimately “that will be a congressional issue.”

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