|Micheal Huerta and Rod Hightower exchange pleasantries after the Meet the Administrater forum Thursday morning. (photo by Jason Toney)
By James Wynbrandt
Making his first visit to AirVenture, acting FAA Administrator Michael Huerta focused on general aviation safety and NextGen implementation during the annual Meet the Administrator session at the Honda Pavilion on Thursday.
After an introduction by EAA President/CEO Rod Hightower, Huerta related how he'd grown up in Riverside, California, near the legendary Flabob Airport, a frequent stop on his newspaper delivery route. "I can't tell you how many times people who lived there got their newspaper a little late because I was busy watching airplanes," Huerta said.
As for his impressions of AirVenture, "We see here at Oshkosh the foundations that have made the USA such a great place. It's all about experimentation, all about innovation, and all about freedom," Huerta said.
"But with that freedom comes the responsibility to ensure safety."
Huerta noted that fatal CFIT (controlled flight into terrain), loss of control in flight, and approach and landing accidents have declined in the past five years compared with the previous five years, and urged attendees to set high safety standards for themselves.
On NextGen, the FAA's program to modernize the National Airspace System (NAS) and transfer to satellite-based navigation and surveillance, Huerta said he has "asked our team in the last few months to focus on what we do to accelerate performance-based navigation."
One result is the FAA's Metroplex initiative, aimed at optimizing airspace and procedures around large metropolitan areas.
While the immediate beneficiaries predominantly are airliners, "a secondary benefit is that it frees up airspace for air traffic control to clear general aviation through these areas much more freely," Huerta said.
"It eliminates a lot of conflicts between those [commercial] airplanes and satellite airports."
In the Q&A following his remarks attendees raised a number of critical issues, answered by Huerta and senior FAA officials.
On the question of user fees, which the administration has proposed imposing on business aviation flights as well as commercial flights, Huerta said, "There hasn't been a whole lot of support [for user fees], but the long term questions is something we need to focus on: How can we reduce reliance on the general fund [to pay the FAA's budget]? We need to work together to figure that out."
An attendee from Cincinnati, which is poised to close Blue Ash Airport in contravention of FAA regulations, asked what action the agency planned to take against the city if it followed through on the closure. FAA Associate Administrator of Airports Christa Fornarotto said, "The FAA feels so strongly about this, we call it a third rail issue: We told them if this does not get corrected, we will be going to court" to take legal action against the city.
A flight instructor asked about outmoded test questions on FAA pilot written examinations, and was told the FAA would be releasing new tests "more in tune with today's testing strategy" by the end of the year.
To a question about the FAA's policy on the proliferation of UAVs operated by a growing number of agencies, Huerta said in part, "We are not going to compromise on safety of NAS."
A young airline first officer with 750 hours of flight time said he and many others would lose their jobs due to recent legislation mandating airline pilots have at least 1,500 hours total time, and asked what the FAA could do about it. Huerta said the agency was working to institute rules that would grant credits for various types of flight experience to avoid having the legislation as written take effect. "If we don't finalize these rules," Huerta said, "the law passed by Congress would set the (flight time) limit at 1,500 hours.
"We're trying to look at bringing flexibility" to the law.