Worried about user fees? New FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt isn’t.
“I don’t see anybody rushing to user fees,” he told a packed crowd at AirVenture last month.
But, he added, “we need a solution” to a drop in the funds that fuel the aviation system. “The harsh reality is that with the downturn in the economy and airplanes that burn less fuel, there’s been a drop in taxes collected on fuel, passengers and cargo.”
To make up for that shortfall, there’s either going to have to be a jump in the general fund contribution to aviation – or some other solution.
“I think the administration put user fees in the budget as a placeholder – as a way to say we do need to find a way to pay for the system,” he said.
The other big concern expressed to the new administrator during his visit to Oshkosh – by everyone from pilots to airplane manufacturers – is the growing power of the Transportation Security Administration. When asked when the FAA was going to tell the TSA to back down, Babbitt responded flippantly, “I’ll call the president and tell him I’m taking the TSA back.”
The problem, Babbitt added quickly, is that not only is he relatively new to the job – just confirmed in late May – he doesn’t have a counterpart at the TSA.
“When an administrator is named, my goal is to sit down and express what I have heard from every component of aviation,” he said, noting he realizes that TSA regulations have become a “real choke point on deciding when to fly.
“When people want to go flying, they think ‘I can’t waste time to get through all these hassles,’” he acknowledged.
Just days after the close of AirVenture, rumors began to swirl that President Obama has tapped ex-FBI agent Errol Southers as the new TSA administrator. As of press time, however, no announcement had been made.
While the former Eastern Airlines pilot was generally greeted warmly by the Oshkosh crowd – many said it was good that the agency is finally being led by a pilot – the crowd booed loudly when an official from the FAA’s airports division declared the FAA has a long-standing policy against through-the-fence (TTF) operations, even when dealing with airparks and hangar homes.
In response to another question from the audience about problems in the past with getting field approvals, Babbitt noted he could only deal with the future. “The vehicle I have has a windshield, not a rearview mirror,” he said.
He then promised the crowd that GA would see a new standardization initiative, where all FAA offices would interpret the rules and regulations the same way – another often-made complaint from the GA sector.
“We can’t have vastly different interpretations,” Babbitt said. “We have to develop channels to get answers to people.”