Inside the Fence

Ya gotta like FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt ...

... at least, I think so, after one hearing. One gets the impression that this is a man who wants to take a “let’s direct this agency” approach to the Federal Aviation Administration. Now there’s a thought.

He was a keynote at this year’s AAAE annual in Dallas, a very positive event. One got the sense that the entire delegation had the same directive:

Let’s move on.

Interestingly, that is Mr. Babbitt’s message — let’s move on, to the next generation of aviation. He suggests that the mandate of NextGen for ATC applies to the industry as a whole; that is, airlines, airports, FBOs need to think in terms of NextGen industry-wide. Perhaps a most appropriate thought as we fulfill 2010.

He also did something unique among high-level transportation officials ... he expressed disdain. He said FAA will not be the “scapegoat” for delays caused by airlines cooperatively scheduling 174 flights out of JFK at 8 a.m. (My exaggeration, not his.)

Do this job long enough, you live through some Administrators. One gets a sense that this one is different; perhaps it reflects a different time, about which one suspects Mr. Babbitt would agree.
FAA’s acting associate administrator of airports Kate Lang, a key part of this issue’s cover story, agrees that the man and the times are indeed different.

She relates, “I echo your own observations. He’s a real shoulder-to-shoulder, roll up the sleeves, collegial manager. I think he does represent the view of this Administration of forward-leaning, pragmatic, calling things as you see them.

“In the case of Randy Babbitt, walking in the door and finding himself in the middle of the Colgan accident and then spending the whole summer doing things like the call to action and talking to pilots. And then to have a couple of goofy things happen in the cockpit, like overflying [MSP] by 150 miles or landing on a taxiway instead of a runway at the world’s busiest airport.

“If you’re Randy Babbitt, you’re going to advance the community’s conversation about what it means to take professional responsibility for what we do.

“He also has great convictions about things like safety management systems. He gets that this isn’t just a bunch or words and a hypothetical; there are things that safety management systems do that have a material difference in the way we think and solve and advance safety. He really walks the talk on this stuff.”

Finally, on the subject of how a change in Administration affects FAA and the industry, Langs says, “Who sits in the White House; who sits in the Secretary’s seat; and who sits in the Administrator’s seat do make big material differences. And that leadership really has a waterfall effect on our ability to get resources and have public confidence. To me it’s huge; they do make a big difference.”

Thanks for reading