WASHINGTON, D.C.—Ten days after being sworn in as Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, J. Randolph Babbitt appeared as a witness at two Congressional hearings, providing an opportunity to judge how he will approach the job. His testimony and responses to questions indicated he knows aviation and will not be rushed into changing regulations for political positions.
The hearings in both the Senate and House were exploring the role of the FAA in the oversight of air carriers, but Babbitt’s answers can have a meaning for general aviation and the pilots involved in it. At one point, for instance, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) asked the Administrator if the FAA shouldn’t have a “three strikes you’re out” rule that would revoke the license of any person who fails a test more than a set number of times. Babbitt politely rejected the idea explaining that there are many reasons for a person possibly failing—not feeling well, fatigue, stress at the time of the exam—and it is better to order additional training and further testing than to deny the person a certificate.
Commenting on another question about flight experience, Babbitt said that in every activity at some point every person is a rookie and must gain experience. He added that the number of flight hours is not a sign of competence. Referring to the subject of regional carriers vs. major carriers, he said a pilot flying long routes with but a few takeoffs and landings gains hours but doesn’t gain the experience that a regional carrier pilot gets by making many short flights. What is important, he said, is quality, not quantity.
Babbitt’s knowledge of flying and his response to questioning was in sharp contrast to the appearances before Congress by the two previous Administrators who were political appointees and were not pilots.