Craig Vander Kolk
FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt talked about issues at his first
Meet the Administrator forum at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2009.
July 30, 2009 - Oshkosh, Wisconsin
- Newly appointed FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt took the podium at the
Honda Pavilion today for his first AirVenture Meet the Administrator
forum. Babbitt began his opening remarks by stating his EAA membership
number to loud applause.
"The EAA never does anything
small," Babbitt continued. "There are 10,000 airplanes and
500,000 visitors. And where else can you tailgate under a (Cessna) 172 or
(an Airbus) A380?
"If you want to see the grassroots of
aviation, you have to come to Oshkosh!"
Babbitt himself has an impressive resume,
as EAA President and Chairman Tom Poberezny asked him to recount for the
After earning his certificate at age 16,
Babbitt worked as a certificated flight instructor during college and
later flew for Eastern Air Lines (EAL), piloting aircraft including the
Douglas DC-9, Boeing B-727, and Airbus A300. He later moved on from EAL to
serve as president of the Air Line Pilots Association before starting an
aviation-consulting business and serving on the FAA's Management Advisory
He won Senate confirmation and was sworn in
as the FAA's 16th administrator on June 1.
The celebratory, feel-good atmosphere his
confirmation helped generate continued through Babbitt's remarks.
Contentious issues that have dominated
previous administrator forums-medical certification, user fees, LSA
rules-are not in the forefront of aviation concerns this year.
Babbitt concentrated on addressing
improvements in GA safety and future technology that is hoped will
continue that trend.
"The safety story has become a good
story in general aviation," Babbitt said. "The numbers of fatal
accidents are down substantially, and if anyone thinks it's because flying
hours are down, that's not the case; the rates themselves are coming
Among the safety stats Babbitt highlighted:
So far this year, fatal accident rates are
down 12 percent over two years ago, and over the past three years fatal
CFIT (controlled flight into terrain) accidents are down more than half.
Approach and landing accidents are down 20 percent, weather-related
accidents are down 40 percent, and night accidents are down 25 percent.
Babbitt attributed some of the safety
improvements to glass panel technology, which provides pilots with better
information and improved situational awareness.
Babbitt also acknowledged that GA flight
hours have declined.
"Fuel prices and the economic downturn
are contributing factors, you already know that," Babbitt said, while
warning the trend could have a negative impact on safety.
"You can't stay sharp if you're not
"We've got to find an extra way to
maintain sharpness," he said. "That is a key factor in
maintaining currency and proficiency."
Babbitt next turned to runway incursions
and noted significant improvement in incursion incidents, which he
attributed to the FAA's initiative to improve runway signage along with
recent educational efforts aimed at pilots.
Runway incursions are down 7 percent this
year, and serious incursions have declined 70 percent over last year,
according to the administrator. Nonetheless, he said the incursion rate,
currently running at two per day, "leaves a lot of room to
Babbitt said the FAA will aggressively
expand its anti-incursion efforts.
"You'll see new technology. We're
evaluating low-cost runway safety systems we can incorporate in many
smaller airports," Babbitt said.
"It's a huge step forward."
But Babbitt noted pilots need to take
responsibility, as well.
"We can do a lot with technology, but
we can't do anything about inattentiveness and casual distractions (in the
cockpit)," Babbitt said. "The time to understand the runway
layout is not on short final. Take time to brief yourself; look at airport
As for misunderstanding air traffic control
instructions, "all you have to do is say, 'I didn't understand.' It's
simple things, common sense things," Babbitt said.
Babbitt encouraged audience members to take
advantage of safety materials the FAA has developed and made available on
its website. "I implore you to download and use them," he said.
Turning to LSA (light-sport aircraft),
Babbitt noted that the FAA had taken "a little leap of faith" in
certificating the new category of aircraft, "but the LSA
manufacturers are holding themselves to the highest standards, and really
made it work.
"It's a real credit to the whole
He noted that LSA accident rates are
generally in line with the rates seen in other segments of GA while
affirming that "the FAA and industry are continuing to upgrade LSA
"The bottom line," Babbitt said,
"LSA is a healthy industry and all indications are it will stay that
Tom Poberezny took a moment to laud FAA
Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety Peggy Gilligan for her pivotal
role in developing the LSA category and standards.
NextGen, the FAA's broad program to bring
aviation into the 21st century, was also on Babbitt's agenda Thursday.
"The perception is, it's simply an
airline program, but that's not true," Babbitt said.
"The entire aviation community will
ADS-B will form the backbone of the system,
and Babbitt noted that 20,000 aircraft are already equipped to take
advantage of LPV (lateral precision with vertical guidance) procedures for
instrument landings. Last year 417 LPV procedures were commissioned; this
year's goal is 500.
"Today there are more LPV approaches
than ILS approaches," Babbitt said. "There's no reason we
shouldn't have horizontal and vertical guidance to 2,000 more airports
than we do today. The fact is, NextGen gets you into places that before
would have been out of reach."
Babbitt acknowledged a number of avionics
manufacturers are holding back from entering the marketplace, presumably
until technical standards for equipment are finalized.
Babbitt did not address the subject of user
fees, which has been a point of contention over efforts to fund the
Babbitt concluded his remarks with a direct
appeal to audience members.
"As pilots, we're held to very high
standards, based on safety," Babbitt said. "What I'm talking is
one step beyond regulations.
"There are no rules in the FARs about
professionalism," Babbitt said in concluding his remarks.
"Really be focused on professionalism. You should be a safe
professional at all times."
Photo by Craig
Randy Babbitt, FAA administrator, presents the FAA Master Pilot
award to EAA Founder Paul Poberezny. Audrey gives her husband a
Babbitt recognizes Paul Poberezny as
EAA AirVenture plays host to numerous award
ceremonies and a variety of recognition moments every year, but it's not
often that an FAA administrator gets to present a piloting award to the
But in a brief pause during the early
moments of his first time participating in the fly-in's Meet the
Administrator session, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt took a moment to
depart from his prepared remarks to bestow an FAA Master Pilot award to
the man who made AirVenture possible, EAA founder Paul Poberezny.
Before presenting the award, Babbitt
recounted highlights of Poberezny's illustrious career in aviation,
including his induction in the National Aviation Hall of Fame, winner of
the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy, and being the only military pilot in
history to earn all seven wings the services offer.
Following a brief slide show illustrating
his career in aviation, Paul Poberezny, along with his wife, Audrey, came
onstage to accept the award amidst sustained applause, as the audience
rose to its feet.
Master Pilot Paul H. Poberezny,