Flying is serious business. That was one of the messages from FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt during his visit to Sun ‘n Fun this year.
Introduced as “a GA pilot who happens to be FAA administrator,” Babbitt is the first GA pilot to be FAA administrator. He grew up in Florida, working as a CFI until he made it to Eastern Airlines. He told the crowd at the Meet the FAA forum Friday that he’s logged over 14,000 hours — “12,000 hours for the airlines, but that was only to pay the electric bill,” he joked. “The real fun flying is GA.”
Babbitt spent four days at Sun ‘n Fun — a record for an FAA administrator — and he brought more senior staffers with him than have ever attended the fly-in. While he had many closed-door meetings and a tour of the airport, Babbitt also walked the flightline and the grounds, talking to pilots and repeating his mantra of professionalism and responsibility, and the need to continue to hone our skills as pilots.
“We have a responsibility to the airspace, to people and to the machines,” he said. “There is a need for all of us to take recurrent training.”
He pointed out that the best golfers in the world continue to take lessons, as do world-class tennis players. “The best pilots also still take lessons,” he said, telling the story of a top aerobatic pilot who told him he had just spent 140 hours training with an instructor to hone his skills. “All of us can benefit from more training.”
He noted that Sun ‘n Fun provides a perfect venue to increase skills, whether it’s through forums, workshops, FAA seminars or just good, old-fashioned hangar flying. “When you spend time with fellow pilots, you exchange stories. I can assure you that everyone can learn something new here to make us better pilots.”
Sun ‘n Fun also affords the opportunity to see the latest in technology. “But no matter how many gadgets you have —there’s more information on one side of the panel in a Cirrus than I had when I was flying for the airlines — if you don’t have the basic skills, all that doesn’t matter.
“It’s time to ask ourselves, ‘Am I doing enough in my training?” he continued, adding that not only the FAA website, but also AOPA’s and EAA’s websites offer online classes to help pilots hone their skills.
“When was the last time you got a couple of hours of dual to see how you are doing,” he asked. “And being an old CFI, it’s not a bad idea to keep our CFIs in business.”
GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS
Babbitt noted there’s “good news” in GA: The fatal accident rate has fallen 4%. “But the bad news is that GA traffic has decreased significantly, so the rate of accidents is still high. We want to see more improvement.”
“We’re still seeing too many GA accidents, like VFR to IMC, where pilots who know better get into bad situations and the outcome is not good, he continued. “We see a lot of bad decisions being made. We’re seeing things that just shouldn’t happen.”
The worst part, he said, is when you look at accident reports and wonder, “what were they thinking?” he said, such as in cases of fuel exhaustion or trying to recover from a bad approach. “We all know that a good landing is made at the beginning of the approach,” he said. “People need to realize that there’s no shame in doing a go-around — pilots do it all the time. There should be no embarrassment in that.”
The FAA is also worried about homebuilt accidents. Homebuilts account for 10% of the fleet, but 27% of the accidents. Babbitt pointed out it’s not the builders who are crashing, but the second owners.
“The builders are not doing a good job of training the people they are selling too,” he said, noting that second owners usually crash in the first 20-40 hours of ownership.
On the flip side, Babbitt said the safety record of Light Sport Aircraft is “excellent” and that the FAA is pleased with the results of manufacturers building to the ASTM standards. “They are in line with where we expect certified aircraft to be,” he said.
Babbitt added that pilots flying in South Florida are in the beginning waves of the new ADS-B technology, which brings traffic and weather into the cockpit and is the cornerstone of Next Generation Air Transportation System, called Next Gen.
“Pilots equipped with ADS-B technology have the ability to see all other ADS-B-equipped aircraft, just like Air Traffic Controllers,” he said. “Additional information means additional safety.”
In Alaska, where ADS-B was first introduced, there was a 47% decrease in the accident rate. “It brings information on rapidly developing thunderstorms into the cockpit, so pilots can take action early in the game and make decisions,” he said.
In answering questions from the audience, Babbitt went on record as being opposed to user fees. “That was from the previous administration and I don’t expect to see them back,” he said, adding quickly, “that doesn’t rule out what other people might do, so I encourage all of you to talk to your Congressmen.”
He pointed out that 25% of the FAA’s funding used to come from the Airport & Airways Trust Fund, which is bolstered by airlines passenger fees and other fees. These days, it accounts for 70%. “Less and less is coming from the General Fund,” he said. “But if you think about all the other modes of transportation, you don’t pay to drive down I-95. The country as a whole benefits from the aviation infrastructure, so it’s the obligation of the whole country to pay for the system, not just the users.”
For more information: FAA.gov