When Randy Babbitt took the job as FAA administrator, he never thought he’d be in this position: Overseeing the furloughs of 4,000 employees and the halt of airport construction projects around the country because Congress couldn’t agree to extend the agency’s funding. But even with all that going on, he made of point of visiting AirVenture on Thursday, bringing with him a contingent of high-level FAA staffers.
“We have so much respect for the dedication and enthusiasm for aviation that people have here — you live and breathe aviation,” said the former CFI and airline pilot.
He noted he was “deeply troubled” by the FAA’s decreased appearance at the nation’s largest air show, but said he felt it wasn’t right for some FAA employees to travel to Oshkosh for the show, while others were going without paychecks. “We had to make some hard decisions,” he said.
He noted that it’s not just FAA employees who are going without checks while Congress continues to fight over FAA reauthorization. More than 70,000 construction workers around the nation have been told not to report to work as the FAA was forced to issue stop work orders on airport improvement projects.
“A lot of jobs have been put in jeopardy,” he said. “Tens of thousands of families are not going to see a paycheck.”
So how did we get here? The FAA has not had full authorization — a fancy word for funding — for the last four years. Unable to reach an agreement on a permanent funding bill, the Congress has passed a record 20 short-term extensions. A 21st extension was passed by the House of Representatives, but not by the Senate, which meant that the FAA’s funding dried up July 22.
“Those serial extensions are also difficult,” Babbitt said. “We can’t do long-term planning if we only have funding for 30 days or 90 days. That’s not the way to run the world’s finest aviation system.”
Babbitt and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood have been lobbying Congress to pass a “clean” extension of the FAA — which means all controversial additions are stripped out and the bill just authorizes funding. After revenue starts flowing into the agency again, the next order of business will be to lobby for full-term authorization, he said.
GA’s alphabet associations are urging their members to contact their elected officials to urge them to get the FAA funding back on track.
Babbitt and other FAA officials emphasized that all employees related to safety functions, including Air Traffic Control, are still on the job.