Frugal pilots and others heavily lobbied their representatives on H.R. 1848, the Small Airplane Revitalization Act and it passed unanimously – 411 to 0 – on July 18, 2013. A similar bill was soon passed by the U.S. Senate (S. 1072) and signed by the President that November.
The legislation recognized that since 2003, the U.S. lost an average of 10,000 active private pilots a year, partially due to a lack of cost-effective, new small aircraft. The Great LSA Hope of 2004 was that light-sport aircraft and the new sport pilot certificate would revitalize the recreational end of general aviation.
Didn’t happen. New aircraft were well above $100,000 and new pilot rules didn’t really solve the problem of making flying more affordable.
The 2013 legislation directed the FAA to issue a final rule that reorganized Part 23 of Title 14, Code of Federal Regulations. That’s the part that covers airworthiness standards for normal, utility, aerobatic, and commuter aircraft. The FAA was given until Dec. 15, 2015 — two years — to come up with revised rules. That date is now just around the corner.
How’s it going?
Not so well. A year after the 2013 bill passed, an FAA spokesperson told Congress that it would miss the 2015 deadline by two years — pushing it to 2017 — even though the FAA said it had been working on Part 23 reform since 2008.
What’s the hold up?
A representative of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) told subcommitee members in 2014 that the FAA is moving in the direction of reforming regulations, but faces the slow and difficult task of changing its culture as part of that effort. The FAA concedes that change is needed, even overdue, but admits that it cannot do so within the legislated timeline — not even close.
The FAA says that reorganizing regulations isn’t quite that simple. Major changes to Part 23 also impact Part 91 (general operating and flight rules) and Part 135 (commuter and on-demand operations). Staffing, they say, is short and prioritization of regulation reviews and changes is low.
Is that true?
The FAA is responsible for the safety of civil aviation in the U.S. Its annual budget of about $9 billion a year covers regulating everything from pilots to airplanes to airports to airspace. It is in charge of general aviation, as well as commercial aviation.
The fact is that the FAA is a bureaucracy: A system of government in which most of the important decisions are made by officials rather than by elected representatives. Like all bureaucracies, it isn’t omnipotent or efficient. And like all bureaucracies, it is chock full of people who are really trying to do a good job in offices and cubicle farms with many others who don’t really care.
In my opinion, it’s the FAA’s fault that Part 23 reorganization will miss the mandated deadline, and maybe the next one.
But it’s ultimately Congress’ fault. Each budget year, Congress reduces Department of Transportation (DOT) and FAA funding while adding more responsibilities and directives. Earlier this year, Congress extended FAA funding for another six months — yes, just six months.
In 2011, it virtually shut the FAA down and immediately furloughed 4,000 employees — and idled 70,000 airport construction workers — by allowing its funding to expire. Who wants to work hard for an employer that acts like it is going out of business?
The Small Airplane Revitalization Act of 2013 is a good idea. Frugal pilots know this. They also know that FAA regulations are way too complex for recreational pilots (and small airport managers, let me tell you).
Something needs to be done to apply safety rules and regulations appropriately based on actual risk. Something needs to be done to make the FAA more efficient and responsive.
But first something needs to be done to make Congress smarter about money management: Direct it, fund it, manage it. That is what our chosen representatives are supposed to be doing.
A frugal pilot seeks good value from every dollar spent. We need a frugal Congress. Please ask your congressional representatives to fund the FAA long-term — then to hold the FAA accountable to responsively do its job.