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aviation, FAA, News, Policy, Safety Management Systems, Strategic Planning, Uncategorized

Experts Debate the Future of Aviation

The initial meeting of the Future of Aviation Advisory Committee took place on May 25, 2010 at the Department of Transportation building in Washington, DC.  This is a Committee that is charged with examining some of the issues facing aviation and developing recommendations for responses to those issues.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood welcomed the committee and explained that the idea for the FAAC came from a meeting with union representatives (Pat Friend of the Flight Attendants’ Union) in Florida, who asked him to do something to find solutions to come of the issues facing the aviation industry.

Secretary LaHood explained that the Committee has been charged with addressing five broad issue areas facing the industry:

  • –          Insuring aviation safety
  • –          Ensuring a world class work force
  • –          Balancing competitiveness and viability
  • –          Financing
  • –          Environment

The Secretary said that he intends for the Committee to

  1. Recommend actions we can take now that will make a real difference
  2. Consider Federal rulemaking, legislation, and compliance measures as options
  3. Use the diversity of the committee to achieve real results

Secretary LaHood explained that the ultimate goal is to improve the aviation system and the way that the public interacts with it.

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt was also on hand to welcome the participants.  He stressed the importance of focusing on safety as we seek improvements in the industry.

The Committee is made up of the following participants:
•    Committee Chair: Susan L. Kurland – Asst Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs, DOT
•    Designated Federal Officer: Pamela Hamilton – Director of Rulemaking, Federal Aviation Administration
•    Juan J. Alonso – Associate Professor in the Department of Aeronautics & Astronautics, Stanford University
•    Susan M. Baer, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
•    David Barger – President and CEO, JetBlue Airways Corporation
•    Bryan K. Bedford – Chairman, President & CEO, Republic Airways
•    Severin Borenstein – Professor of Business Administration and Public Policy at the Haas School of Business
•    Thella F. Bowens – President & CEO, San Diego County Regional Airport Authority
•    John M. Conley – Intl Admin VP, Transport Workers Union of America
•    Cynthia M. Egnotovich – Segment President, Nacelles and Interior Systems, Goodrich Corporation
•    Patricia A. Friend – International President, Association of Flight Attendants
•    Robert L. Lekites – President, UPS Airlines
•    Ana McAhron-Schulz – Dir. of Economic and Financial Analysis, Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA)
•    William J. McGee – Consultant to the Consumers Union
•    Daniel McKenzie – CFA, Hudson Securities
•    Jack J. Pelton – Chairman, President, and CEO, Cessna Aircraft Company
•    Nicole W. Piasecki – Vice President of Business Development, Boeing Commercial Airplanes
•    Raul Regalado – President & CEO, Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority
•    Glenn F. Tilton – Chairman, President & CEO, UAL Corporation
•    Christopher J. Williams – Chairman, CEO and founder of The Williams Capital Group, L.P.

Despite the industry diversity that the Secretary stressed, the fact is that none of the participants represent either small business interests nor the aviation aftermarket.

The following represents a sampling of the comments from the safety discussion.

Nicole Piasecki, the Boeing representative recognized that the industry has cooperated to achieve incredible safety gains since the 1990s.  The model that has been most successful has been a model in which we have all worked together to achieve these results.  A commitment to data-driven and risk-based analysis has also helped to foster an open safety culture.  She explained that this is one of the pillars upon which our future efforts must be based.

JetBlue President David Barger explained that these five elements are very much related.  An additional element that is not mentioned, but that is very important, is security.  He felt that there was no need to incentivize safety because safety is its own incentive.  But you don’t know what you don’t know so collecting data and using it to drive our efforts is very important.

Susan Baer said that human factors is a very important factor in safety.  An environment that encourages self-reporting is important.

John Conley explained that we all say we are committed to safety, but sometimes safety is elusive.  He noted that he was recently at the Louisville sorting facility and saw everyone stopping at the stop signs in the facility.  That is where it starts – with a commitment to safety and safety culture.

William McGee, who represents the Consumers Union, explained that the data does not always tell the story.  He wants to address the critical issue of maintenance outsourcing.  In order to maintain that stellar safety record we need to look at what’s changed and how we adapt to that.  We need to ask whether we are doing all we can to make sure that the aircraft is being maintained to the best possible standards.

Bryan Bedford from Republic Airlines reminded everyone that we started the one level of safety initiative 15 years ago and we agreed that collaborating was better than confrontation.  Part of this was removing the threat of job action when employees tell the company how the programs are working and how they can be improved.  It seems that there is a mood change in which we are moving towards a confrontation and enforcement based approach.  So he asked those in government to be mindful of the importance of the partnership in working together towards safety.  Collaboration is better than confrontation.  And job security is also important because employees who believe that their jobs are secure will perform better.

Glenn Tilton of United explained that this is a complex industry.  There are important attitudes and behaviors that we want to encourage.  It is easier to be safety conscious when we are profitable.

Ana McAhron-Schulz echoed the importance of encouraging voluntary process, and asked that we also consider ways to streamline the rulemaking process.

Professor Juan Alonso commended the industry for its tremendous safety record.  He explained that we need to be prognostic rather than diagnostic.

Cynthia Egnotovich explained thatit is critical to have the same standards for maintenance everywhere.  The same standards should apply worldwide hen it comes to overhauling parts.

A common theme among the participants was the importance of systems-based approach to safety (SMS) as well as the importance of human factors and creating an environment in which employees are comfortable participating in safety.

Severin Borenstein is a former staff economist from the CAB.  He explained that with economic deregulation we have seen both robust competition and volatility.  So we need to make sure we have protocols or ensuring safety even when an air carrier is in bankruptcy.

Pat Freind asked that the group look at ARAC and determine whether it serves any purpose other than causing frustration among the participants.

The Chair asked how the FAA can incentivize the voluntary adoption of risk-based data-driven programs.

David Barger repeated that he sees no need to incentivize safety best practices.  His organization’s door is open to any other organization and there is no need to impose mandates to share data.

Susan Baer reminded the group that it is important to share data with the FAA as well.

Bryan Bedford, the Venture Capitalist, said that there must be a way to identify which air carriers have the best safety mechanisms, and that there should be some way of acknowledging the safety systems of the carriers – this will allow consumers to judge carriers non their safety practices, and this also provides carriers with an incentive to promote safety within their organizations.

Pat Friend noted that the industry has traditionally been unwilling to compete on safety.  Why is this? she asked.

Bryan Bedford explained that the different FSDOs, and even the principal inspectors, each have different interpretations of the regulations.  The regulatory regime does not accommodate one level of safety very well in light of the fact that it there are so many details that are subject to differing interpretations from different individuals within the regulatory agency.

Glenn Tilton feels that the air carriers do compete on safety, as they each try to improve safety through different approaches.  We cannot lose sight of the point that there are going to be more bankruptcies in the air carrier sector.  That volatility is a challenge to the investment that is made in this industry.

David Barger explained that his continuity in the Garden City FSDO has helped to promote trust between JetBlue and the FSDO, and has fostered open communication about safety issues.  Thus, the idea of periodically rotating Principal Inspectors seems to him to undermine safety goals.

Secretary LaHood explained that the he is stunned at how long it takes to make a rule.  It takes too long.

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About Jason Dickstein

Mr. Dickstein is the President of the Washington Aviation Group, a Washington, DC-based aviation law firm. He represents several aviation trade associations, including the Aviation Suppliers Association, the Aircraft Electronics Association, the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association and the Modification and Replacement Parts Association.

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