This past summer was a tough one for GA. Between June and September, 195 people lost their lives in 114 fatal accidents, reported FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt at the AOPA Aviation Summit.
“The summer of 2011 has been an especially painful time,” he said. “I am still very troubled by the number of fatal accidents we see in general aviation.”
He told the crowd of pilots that the long-term trend in accidents was moving down, “in part due to all the work we have done together,” he said, “but it has leveled out over the past four to five years.”
“We don’t always have a good handle on what causes general aviation accidents,” he continued. “But one thing we do know is that there is usually a chain of events that leads to an accident … and the human element is almost always a link in that chain. That’s why I have been talking about professionalism since Day One as FAA administrator.”
One of the initiatives the FAA is undertaking is to improve training and test materials, he said. The agency is chartering an Aviation Rulemaking Committee that will be tasked with updating training and testing materials used for pilot and instructor certification.
“This initiative is part of our five-year plan for transforming GA safety,” he said. “Like other parts of this plan, it’s something we are doing in partnership with the aviation community. We don’t have all the answers for GA safety, so we need your help. The people who work day in, day out on the flight lines of aviation safety, training and assessment are the ones with the best insight on what kind of knowledge pilots need to operate safely in today’s national airspace system. You are the ones who know how to teach it. And you know how to measure it through good testing. We’re going to be knocking on some of your doors very soon to ask for participation.”
Babbitt also touched on other hot-button issues, including the Next Generation Air Traffic Control system (NextGen), which is “the complete transformation of our national airspace system from ground-based navigation and radar to satellite-based navigation and surveillance. It is one of the most important things we can do to improve safety and efficiency in a system that is vital to the American people and to our country’s economic health,” he said, noting aviation accounts for more than 11.5 million jobs, and produces $396 billion in wages.
He noted that the ground infrastructure for Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) will be completely in place by 2014, offering coverage across the country. The agency is mandating ADS-B Out by 2020 for all aircraft that operate in the busiest airspace. ADS-B Out will transmit information about your plane to not only ATC, but also other planes that are ADS-B equipped.
While not mandated, FAA officials hope GA pilots also will be willing — and able — to add ADS-B In capabilities to their aircraft. “ADS-B In will provide traffic and weather information right to your cockpit display, with no need for a subscription,” he said. “And it may not take that long for the cost of acquiring and installing new equipment to pay for itself in savings from the subscriptions you buy right now.”
He said another reason the FAA is pushing GA to upgrade to ADS-B equipment is that NextGen technologies “depend on a system where most aircraft are using them,” he said. “In most circumstances right now, the best equipped aircraft will be best placed to benefit from the many efficiencies that this equipment enables. And more ADS-B-equipped aircraft mean more efficient operations for everyone.”
But what about VFR pilots? “You don’t have to be flying IFR to benefit from traffic information and weather information,” he said. “You don’t have to be on an IFR flight plan to benefit from VFR flight following in places with little or no radar coverage.”
Babbitt also touched on the search for a replacement for 100LL, an issue that many pilots feel is the most important one facing GA.
“The best news is that the EPA understands our problem and has slowed down,” he said. “We’ve told them it’s a complicated problem.”
He added the agency is getting “closer” to a solution, but contends that it must be a drop-in solution, which means the new unleaded fuel must be able to be used “in any plane and any engine,” he said, noting having to put together STCs for each and every airplane for a new fuel “just won’t cut it.”
While the jump in GA fatal accidents made this past summer tough, it was also challenging for the agency when a lapse in funding forced it to furlough 4,000 employees, he noted.
“It wasn’t just about FAA employees,” he said. “As a result of the lack of an authorization, we had to stop work on over 200 aviation construction and research projects across the country. Thousands of people in the construction trade had to go home and suspend work on a number of critical projects around the country.”
While relieved to get the immediate crisis resolved, Babbitt said “we still need a long-term FAA funding bill in order to give the taxpayers the aviation system this country deserves. Since September 2007, Congress has passed short-term extensions of the FAA’s spending authorization 22 separate times. It’s tough to plan and execute the kind of long-term programs we need when funding comes in 30- and 90-day increments.”
When asked about user fees in the President’s deficit reduction plan, Babbitt, who has come out in the past against user fees, said “we all are aware we have a big problem and we all have to share in solving that problem. This is the plan the administration came up with.”
He noted there is one bright spot for GA in the proposal. There is a provision that would allow the nation’s 50 largest airports to borrow money collected in passenger fees, which would mean those airports would take less money out of the Aviation Trust Fund. “That means we could distribute a larger volume to smaller airports and let the big airports take care of themselves.”
For more information: FAA.gov