Tuesday, July 19, 2011

FAA Reauthorization Bill and what it means to aviation

Jazz Shaw over at the excellent blog HotAir posts an excellent and somewhat worrisome piece regarding the FAA Reauthorization Bill, which must be passed very quickly if the entire civil air traffic is to remain operational. Please read the whole article.  Of course Congress is working diligently porking up the bill in order to bring money to their own districts without consideration to what is actually necessary and what can be cut out with what President Obama called "his scalpel", which is pretty much standard operating procedure for Congress, even in these tough times.

I can only scratch the surface as to what the FAA does here and could easily write volumes on the subject, but here goes.  First a little background on what the FAA is and why it is an essential agency.  Some of the comments I read at HotAir were very naive to assume that the airlines could just continue with out the FAA support mechanisms in place.  That's plane fantasy (pun intended).  The air traffic control system in the USA for all its faults is still the best, most comprehensive and efficient in the world.  The amounts of flights they handle per day is far larger than the rest of the world combined.  So lets put this myth aside, the FAA shuts down, the friendly skies will suddenly be empty, with the exception of military operations.  Even they rely on the civilian air traffic control system over most airspace, as they share the same airways as your flight to visit mom and dad in Springfield (you pick the state).  We can all remember the 9/11/2001 attacks, and the shutdown of the entire airspace over the US, and that will happen if the FAA is defunded.  The economy took a huge hit and was one of the factors that drove a few airlines out of business, and several others eventually into Chapter 11.  Our Congress-critters will be forced to revert to ground transportation to return to their districts is probably a bigger motivator for some of out less scrupulous representatives and Senators to get it done. (Yes I can be a cynic).

Ok, we've covered why having a functional air traffic control system is essential just to keep planes in the air.  Now, lets talk about what else they do that affects me and my job.

Like many, if not most government agencies, they are bloated at the top and at some middle and lower levels of management, but having to deal with the nice folks in our local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) and the National Simulator Evaluation Team (NSET), the people I personally deal with most, I'm here to tell you that these people are understaffed, work a lot of hours, and are always begging for more personnel as airlines expand, flight training facilities grow more numerous and demand increases.  Are these people necessary?  Well if we were the wild west, with no regulations and and everyone was free to operate as they want, the regulators would be unnecessary, but in a modern world we need these folks as the regulators and rule enforcers,  Without them, there are no checks and balances on how airlines, air taxi services, and general aviation maintain their equipment, train their pilots and mechanics and the quality of airplane maintenance, pilot training and operation of the airlines.  Can some of the rules and regulations be overkill, needless and overly intrusive; you bet.  But in a world that is increasingly complex, we need to have our Federal Air Regulations (FAR).

The bureaucracy in DC is indeed bloated, politically motivated and makes decisions without considering real life decisions on the ground, but name one federal agency that isn't?  That's where a lot of waste gets doled out, often to political cronies *gasp*. The people on the ground, or in the air, however the case may be that I work and interface with are very hard workers, fairly paid compared to their private sector counterparts, although there is bloated management at many levels, and in many cases even middle level managers are political hacks who have no idea what their people do for a living and what they need to do their jobs.

So finally in answer to Jazz's question and concern, forget about it buddy, there will be last minute funding.  It might be ugly, but a shutdown is not an option.

Perhaps some of my tens of readers who work in aviation can contribute more to this piece, so comments are welcome, and I'll gladly elevate relevant ones as updates.

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