The Tag Man Cometh
The man who helped redefine 135/91 takes over as NATA chair
By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director
At this year’s convention of the National Air Transportation Associa-tion,
54-year old Christiansen was named the incoming chairman of the trade
group, which represents fixed base operators, charter firms, repair stations,
and flight schools. During the show, he sat with AIRPORT BUSINESS to discuss
the issues facing aviation businesses. Here are edited excerpts.
AIRPORT BUSINESS: Where are we in terms of getting a final ruling on Part 91-SubpartK, which your working group recommended for governing fractionals?
Christiansen: I was in Washington a couple of weeks ago and it is still fully endorsed by FAA, the Administrator signed off on it, and it’s in DOT. The change in administrations in Washington has impacted us (with delays). It’s part of the process.
It’s working its way through. It’s my understanding we could see an NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) by this summer. That will put those of us in industry back into a working mode, because we have agreed to help FAA write the guidance material so that inspectors in the field understand how to administer it.
AB: One thing FAA has been looking at for some time is flight and duty time, particularly as it relates to Part 121 and 135 carriers. Do you see any movement there?
Christiansen: It has a high priority. The whole issue, from a 135 perspective, has been to make sure on-demand air charter operators aren’t swept up in the same net as 121 scheduled carriers. We’re a different breed of cat. So we’ve been working to help FAA understand those differences. If you impose 121-type regulations for duty time on us, they would be economically devastating.
AB: It would seem that FAA would understand the differences.
Christiansen: I think they do. It’s a tricky issue; there are a lot of constituencies there that have different agendas, frankly. The trick is for FAA to balance all of those interests.
AB: Early on, quite a few 135 charter operators were upset with the impact of fractionals on their businesses. That sentiment seems to have waned, partly due to the business many 135s reap from the fractionals.
Christiansen: Fractionals serve a different market. On-demand charter is one product, fractionals another. I think what we’ve seen is an education of the market.
AB: A question that remains is what happens to the fractional segment when the economy takes a significant downturn. Any thoughts?
Christiansen: There are several schools of thought. My sense is the increase in wealth in the country, the continued deterioration of service with the trunk carriers, and the geographic diversification of business (will help) fractionals continue to prosper. I don’t think you’ll see a huge cashing in of fractional shares. When you get used to the productivity gains you can get from using a business jet, it’s pretty difficult to back off from that.
AB: How concerned are you about the shortage or potential shortage of pilots in the industry?
Christiansen: Because of our history as Aviation Methods and Wayfarer Aviation, TAG has not had much difficulty getting pilots; we’ve been a career destination. But as I bounce around talking with other operators, I hear a lot of people saying they’re having terrible trouble — turnover, pressure on salaries.
I think it has to be a concern for all of us long-term, and mechanics are becoming even more difficult to come by. That is probably the biggest challenge we’ve been facing in the past couple of years.
NATA, of course, is involved with Be A Pilot and we have a flight training committee and we focus fairly intently on how we can make life better for the flight training community. They’re facing all kinds of problems, insurance not being the least of them. You know, if you want to run a flight school and you can’t buy insurance it makes life pretty difficult.
AB: Looking ahead, are there particular challenges or opportunities on the horizon that you see?
Christiansen: The current concerns can be pretty easily summed up as access and capacity. Those are two of the things I’m going to focus pretty intently on during my tenure as chairman of NATA.
Our position, of course, is that general aviation has a right at the table as much as anyone does in the system. Airlines, GA, private pilots all have the same rights to use the system, and the fact is we’ve all been paying our dues for many years. Our approach is that we need to be enhancing capacity, not rationing it. We have to break this logjam so that we can build more runways and modernize the ATC system so we can more efficiently handle the traffic. If this summer is like last summer and we continue to gain notoriety in the news media, the kneejerk reaction could significantly impact us.
AB: Any thoughts on what exactly we should do with the ATC system?
Christiansen: My sense is that the government has let us down by not getting the ATC modernization in place and also the airport capacity that this country could have gotten to at this point. As a business guy, you’re used to setting an objective and making it happen, period.