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EAA AirVenture Today is published by the Experimental Aircraft Association for EAA AirVenture from July 27 - August 3. It is distributed free on the convention grounds as well as other locations in Oshkosh and surrounding communities. Stories and photos are copyrighted 2008 by EAA AirVenture Today and EAA. Reproduction by any means is prohibited without written consent.


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The official daily newspaper of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh

Volume 9, Number 6 August 1, 2008     

Safety a key for acting administrator
By Randy Dufault

Acting FAA Administrator Bobby Sturgell

Acting FAA Administrator Bobby Sturgell acknowledged the controversy surrounding the proposed new policy for administering and enforcing the homebuilt 51 percent rule, but chose to concentrate on general aviation safety and new safety initiatives in his opening remarks before a forum crowd Thursday morning.

Sturgell appeared at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2008 in the now traditional, Meet the Administrator session. He made a few remarks before taking questions from the audience.

Regarding the 51 percent rule Sturgell said, "As you know we have our proposed policy out there. It had come to our attention that some companies simply were not following the letter of the law."

"For safety’s sake and for the integrity of the system, we just can’t let that happen," he added. "I’m sure no one in this crowd is involved in that, but it does circumvent the safeguards that are built into the system. When we say 51 percent of the plane must be put together by hand and not by the kit maker, that is what it is all about. As [EAA President] Tom mentioned, our regulations have essentially remained unchanged for 50 years."

"The aim of the policy change is not to punish folks," Sturgell noted. "It goes back to the integrity of the system, as well as being able to continue to support and encourage the homebuilt industry, which has been a tremendous innovator that has had a spillover effect to other parts of the industry."

Regarding the safety issue Sturgell addressed the safety trends related to homebuilt aircraft.

"The trends unfortunately are increasing both in terms of accident numbers and in rates," he said. "We have a partnership with Tom and EAA to help bring these down."

The FAA Joint Aviation Safety Committee has formed a new subcommittee for amateur built aircraft safety. That includes representatives of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, the Aviation Safety Foundation and the EAA. The group met for the first time Wednesday at EAA AirVenture.

In addition to the subcommittee, FAA has also created an internal working group that will study amateur built aircraft flying patterns.

A key focus area for Sturgell personally is runway safety.

"The one area where I do believe we do need to do better on is runway safety," he said. "GA [general aviation] pilot deviations continue to be the primary source of runway incursions. And what is disturbing for me as a pilot is the number of controller instruction-read back issues. The pilot is told to hold short of a runway, the pilot reads back the instruction correctly, but proceeds to enter the runway anyway. It’s something that is just extremely frustrating."

"One thing this does point out is that human factors will always continue to be an issue in aviation," he added.

He encouraged everyone to visit the runway safety display here at EAA AirVenture and to use the runway safety resources the FAA has published on the www.FAASafety.gov.

On the issue of special issuance medical certificates Sturgell reported that the FAA backlog is now almost nonexistant and that processing seldom requires more than 15 days. He credited partnerships with EAA and other organizations as having resolved the longstanding issue.

Sturgell closed by asking everyone in the crowd to comment both on the proposed changes on administering and enforcing the 51 percent rule, and the proposed changes to the light-sport aircraft rules.

"I respect that you all may feel differently about proposed policy changes. I just want to encourage you to weigh in with your recommendations and comments. I think with our record on light-sport aircraft we are trying to be responsive. We are trying to work out the issues together during our rulemaking and at the end of the day everyone should see that the industry can grow, and still maintain the safety trends that we need to see.

Meet the Administrator Q&A
By James Wynbrandt

The often contentious Q&A period of AirVenture’s annual Meet the Administrator session was uncharacteristically subdued this year. Perhaps it reflected the "acting" status of the current Administrator, or his considerable aviation roots that soothed the crowd. Edited text of the questions and Sturgell’s answers follow.

Q: I’ve noted a frightening trend in enforcement as exemplified by the FAA’s action against Southwest Airlines for lapses in its maintenance program. Is the FAA changing its stance from a cooperative approach in favor of enforcement?

STURGELL: When you look back on the track record of the last ten years, you can’t argue with the outcome; it’s the safest period we’ve ever been in aviation. Part of the reason that you’re seeing that success is efforts like the FITS program and the voluntary disclosure program. What we have tried to stress is the importance of balance between enforcement and cooperation. The partnership attitude has created a much safer environment and one incident shouldn’t change that. But we’ve got to have the flexibility to use enforcement when we need to.

Q: I read reports of low morale and high workloads leading experienced Air Traffic Controllers to retire. Why won’t the FAA reopen contract negotiations with NATCA [National Air Traffic Controllers Association] to alter the terms of the 1998 contract, if it would help retain experienced controllers?

STURGELL: Air Traffic Controllers can retire at age 50 with 20 years of service, or at any age with 25 years of service, and must retire at age 56. That’s the mandatory retirement age. Four years ago we laid out a ten-year plan to hire and staff facilities in anticipation of the retirement of experienced controllers. We hired 1,800 controllers last year; this year we’re hiring more than 1,900. We’re conducting fewer operations per controller than we were back in 2000. I want them to be well paid, and the contract we put in place did not cut anybody’s base pay.

Q: I believe top FAA officials have purposely lied to Congress. Do you have a policy for your top officials to lie to Congress when expedient as long as they are not placed under oath?

STURGELL: David, I talked to you [about this] yesterday. If you have factual information, we’re obligated to consider that. If you’ve got proof that people are lying to Congress, bring it to us.

Q: I’m seeking a special issuance medical certification so I can get my license back. What recourse do I have if I’ve been turned down?

STURGELL: If you have data that supports a different position than we’ve taken, if we made a mistake or you have new information, or your situation changed, please let us have that information. We have three doctors (here at AirVenture) answering certification questions right now. They can look directly at your record and see what your situation is. We try to get every single person [seeking to regain their medical certification] back into the airspace.

Q: What’s your take on user fees? You like it, or you don’t like it?

STURGELL: I expect to see another short extension [of interim FAA funding] which I would not support. I’d rather get a long extension and see how the administration changes. Given the drastic changes we’re going to see on the commercial side [of aviation], and I think changes on the GA side, what we’re trying to do is make the system more fair, and make users cognizant of the cost of the system. At the same time we’re trying to protect those folks that are flying where they’re not driving a lot of our costs. We do see the high-end side uses the upper airspace and major metropolitan airports. We’re trying to strike a balance.

Q: Small airports are very much troubled because TSA has come around leveling a lot of requirements for increased security, and chain link fences, and small towns do not have the resources to support that.

STURGELL: I meet with the Administrator of TSA on a fairly consistent basis. The next time I’ll bring them the message that ‘We can’t afford the security you want us to provide.’ I hear you guys. [But] a little on the flip side, the folks that attacked us on 9-11 aren’t going away. Just keep in mind, aviation continues to be their preferred target.

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