Monday Insight – August 21, 2023

The FAA Administrator Fiasco:
The Senate Is Threatening Air Safety
(But It’s Wonderfully Bipartisan)

The beat goes on. The air transportation system proceeds without leadership or direction at the top of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Avoiding Bumper Cars In The Sky. At least two more near-collisions have been reported in the last ten days. One in San Diego and one in Boston.

Two that we know of.

The Future Is Coming Over The FAA Transom. In addition to a failing ATC system, the advanced air mobility programs (AAM) are moving at full tilt, with no serious concern regarding recent electric prototype failures and cancellations at Tecnam and NASA.

The FAA is hip-deep in the regulatory aspects of AAM and must take leadership to guide the programs in several areas. Not to mention increasing indications that there are major – major – environmental issues sprouting up with battery manufacture and post-use disposition that have been conveniently buried, and which the FAA should be digging up.

Then we have the growing use of drones, which represents the need for increased regulatory scrutiny.

This is A Team Game. Not A Solo. Okay, it’s no revelation that Biden and Buttigieg are lost in political space. But what about the glorious senators on that confirmation committee who would have us believe that they are doing their jobs?

They are not. To put it clearly, they are irresponsible.

They bear oversight, and we don’t have any official leadership at the top of the FAA, at a time when decisions need to be made. They are doing nothing but kibitzing on the sidelines.

It Is A Safety Position. Find An Aviation Safety Professional. Maybe it’s time powerful shamans in the Senate stop treating the FAA Administrator job as some sort of political scalp-trophy. Apparently, nothing was learned from the political human sacrifice that took place with the Phil Washington fiasco.

The backroom powers just took a guy with very marginal aviation experience, and apparently told him not to worry, that the nomination was a slam dunk. Then we had the mind-numbing and ethics-angering confirmation hearings where it became clear the appointee could express no ideas, or fire, or gut-interest in either the current problems at the FAA, not to mention the future need to take a bulldozer to the place.

But there’s a lot of responsibility for this mess attributable to the august senators involved in this hoedown. Not one of the Senators involved specifically asked Mr. Washington what he had in mind for fixing the FAA. Not that it would have made much difference, as it was clear he had given it no real thought.

But it does say volumes about the mindset of the Senators involved. Mr. Washington had no clue about what to do in the future – and neither did any of the elected officials alternatively grilling him or mindlessly lauding him (depending on side of the aisle.)

While Planes Are Dodging Each Other, More Seat Warming Is In The Offing. Another announcement this past week was that the current temporary Administrator will by statute step down in October, and probably another temp will be put in charge. Three months ago, there was speculation that Mike Whitaker, a former FAA director, was on tap.

Silence since. The mess continues.

The fact is that the Senate committee doing the confirmation hearings is guilty of the same failures as were displayed by Mr. Washington. Instead of properly doing their homework on the issues surrounding the FAA, they were mostly shooting from the political hip.

So, the truth is that these senators’ game-playing nonsense is also putting the nation’s air transportation system in jeopardy.

But it is wonderfully bipartisan.