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Questions & Answers With the Administrator

Fri, Aug 14, 2009 — David Evans

Articles

By Captain Tom Duke (Ret.)

As a “fly on the wall” attendee at the 55th Annual Air Line Pilot Association Safety and Security Forum, it was a privilege to see the two minute applause for Captain Randy Babbitt, former ALPA President and now the FAA Administrator, as he finished his speech opening the event. (See Aviation Safety Journal, ‘We Can’t Regulate Professionalism’) When the applause finally died down, Captain John Prater, ALPA’s current President, announced that Randy had agreed to take a few questions and several in the audience raced to the mikes for the opportunity to toss a zinger.

Babbitt had neared the end of his speech with the phrase “my goal at the FAA is to make sure safety is paramount in everything we say and everything we do.” The first questioner asked how he planned to resolve the obvious resistance by airlines to make a safe rule for flight and duty time for the last several years? With a smile, knowing he had to be careful, Randy responded that the FAA and Air Transport Association, and others will have to reach a consensus. We cannot resolve it alone. All parties must get out of their stovepipe management thinking. We must get together and change the post World War II propeller era rules. We will have a rule.

The second questioner noted that not all airlines, including many regional carriers, have not voluntarily initiated ASAP, FOQA, LOSA and many other recent data gathering improvements with protections for the crewmembers involved in identifying safety issues for mitigation. Why not make these concepts mandatory and raise the level of safety information gathering immediately? Captain Babbitt responded by reminding the audience that mandated rules are subject to discovery by the legal community and therefore protection would be nearly impossible. Consequently, will continue to “strongly encourage” more voluntary acceptance of these valuable programs.

A third questioner asked how he would enlighten the FAA people that safety (rather than enforcement) is paramount. After a pause to let the audience quiet down, Babbitt responded that he will be looking forward through the windshield rather than backward through the mirror. His view of the FAA is very positive and he expects to accomplish his goals.

The last questioner followed up by asking how he can balance the FAA mission of safety and promotion of air travel. Babbitt responded that Congress had recently helped him greatly by removing the requirement for FAA to promote air travel. He further stated that US airlines safely perform 70,000 operations a day while there are 49 deaths a day on US roads before the morning rush hour. The air travel system is incredibly safe and the bar will still be raised. It is the aircrews that make the system work. The next level of safety will come with the professionalism of the aircrews.

After the applause again died down, ALPA President, Captain John Prater, thanked Babbitt and stated, “It is clear that Randy is in the left seat (the pilot in command) at the FAA.”

As Babbitt was exiting the room, I wondered if he would be interested in renaming his new agency the Federal Aviation Safety Administration. Has a nice ring to it.


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