Major challenges remain, but the potential exists for a renaissance
by J.E. Murdock
J.E. ’Sandy’ MurdockAbout the Author J.E. ’Sandy’ Murdock serves as a partner in the Aviation Law Group of Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge, based in Washington, D.C. A specialist in regulatory aviation affairs, he is the former chief counsel for the Federal Aviation Administration.Free flight, as a concept, will be tested in the next year. If it succeeds, new entrepreneurs will enter the system. Fractional ownership will be supplemented by a new regulatory reality. Small airports, a convenience to the traveling public, with the amenities and ease of movement demanded by passengers, will be the new critical structures. All of this depends on visions becoming reality. We will know soon.
If the promises are realized, be ready; the market will move with expedition. The entities that are able to respond to this new technology will capture the passengers of the second sea change since deregulation. Eyes open, nimble feet, quick response will dictate the "dotcom" like growth of the new generation of aviation. Excitement like we have never seen since early aviation. Meanwhile, some challenges exist.
August 31, 2002 marks the end of an era — the end of the first fixed fiveyear term for an FAA Administrator. Rumor has it that the White House has not yet begun to look for a successor to Jane Garvey. Thus, it may be timely to consider what the industry needs in an Administrator.
The FAA’s top job requires someone who knows the business. It’s important that the candidate be able to ask the right questions about the engineering analysis for an A380 or a Sonic Cruiser, need not rely on a senior career staffer to assess the validity of a pilot’s complaint about diurnal rhythm, assess aerial navigation systems so that the Administrator can tell the DOT Secretary that free flight will work, and so on. The person must have the history of participating in comparable decisions in the past and a background with which to assess the quality of the work product.
We need someone who can deal with the political technocrat connection. The job of the Secretary is to assess the will of Congress or to accept directives from the White House. The job of the Administrator is to take those political orders and to translate them to terms, to a vocabulary, that the career staff can accept.
The typical FAA employee who accepts the agency’s mission to promote aviation safety will be uncomfortable with blatant, political orders. The Administrator has to be able to translate such directives into terms that can be digested by the staff.
FAA career employees are in a state of disarray. Every President since 1976 has been elected on a platform that the Washington bureaucracy is inept, illmotivated. It is becoming a selffilling prophesy.
FAA staff is made up of a very dedicated and knowledgeable crew. What they lack is confidence, and their low selfesteem can be redressed by a leader who has the technical skill set, the political platform, and personal traits to reassure that, left to its technical mission, FAA can do its job.
BEWARE THE EASA
Those who have followed recent relationships between FAA and the civil aviation authorities of Europe must be aware of the rising European threat. Strange certification processes for Boeing or Gulfstream, curious rules proposed for pilots trained in the U.S., and the infamous hush kit rules — to cite a few examples — evidence the growing aggression of the European countries against the historical dominance of U.S. aviation products and regulations.
The U.S. has been successful in rebuffing such initiatives because Europe has not been unified. While there is an EU and a JAA, there have been multiple civil aviation authorities (CAA, LBA, DGAC, FOCA, etc.). Those fissures will soon be rectified.
EASA, the European Aviation Safety Administration, will become a reality soon and will be a threat to the preeminence of FAA. A Eurocrat writing rules with global impact will impact U.S. flight schools, will hurt sales of Boeing products, will redefine ATC rules to favor the technology of Swedish companies, etc. EASA will become the number one threat to the U.S. and FAA has no substantive basis to object to its creation.
PROMISE OF FREE FLIGHT
Free Flight, a book by James Fallows, relates the history of NASA’s general aviation initiatives. It tells the story of a new generation of general aviation aircraft: affordable, hightech, exciting, attractive, extraordinarily efficient, low operating costs — attributes that will revitalize aviation.
While the technology is in the final stages of proof, the potential is there. Pointtopoint, executive type flights at Southwest fare levels could be realized in 20032004. Literally thousands of these new airplanes stationed strategically around the country could minimize dependence on the hub and spoke system.
If these visions are correct, the relevant question will be, Who needs a superjumbo A380 anymore? O’HareKennedy will no longer be the critical artery of the system. Ames, IA to Albany, NY, Palwaukee, IL to Princeton, NJ, Bloomington, IN to Bridgeport, CT will be the new routes. The RJ will become the Greyhound bus of the system, while the sixpassenger new technology jets will be the aircraft of choice for many.
Long lines at LaGuardia will no longer be a problem. Secondary airports will have to learn how to adapt the TSA structures to their facilities. Congestion in a TRACON will no longer be an issue. Demand management and slot controls will become irrelevant. Technology will define solutions that will solve the delay problems of the 1980s and 1990s. The tactics that deregulation fostered — fortress hubs, restricted fares, the concentration of services at points to increase unit efficiency — will become irrelevant. Airlines will have to reuse their strategies, structures, and missions. United will regret that it abandoned Avolar.