As Michael Huerta’s term as FAA administrator draws to a close, he addressed the National Business Aviation Association as such one last time during the Business Aviation Convention & Exposition in Las Vegas this week.
Huerta’s comments followed a series of tragic hurricanes and a mass shooting in NBAA-BACE’s host city. He opened his speech with acknowledgements to both.
“One of our FAA employees was shot and seriously injured as he attempted to shield his wife from gunfire,” he said of the outbreak of violence in Las Vegas. “Another, an air traffic controller from our Las Vegas tower, was also in the crowd. As soon as she was able to reach a safe spot, she called the control tower and warned the crew to keep aircraft from straying into the line of fire. She then made her way into work, where she spent the rest of the evening helping coordinate the FAA’s efforts to respond to the unfolding situation.”
He then went on to highlight the role that general aviation operators played in hurricane relief efforts.
“In the days immediately following the storms, when vehicles couldn’t access hard-hit areas, GA pilots quickly swooped in to deliver countless tons of lifesaving water and other supplies to storm victims,” he said. “Many private individuals and corporations sent their jets to not only deliver supplies, but they also helped relocate many people whose homes were rendered uninhabitable.
“Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge that there’s an 800-pound gorilla in this room,” Huerta said. “And that gorilla is the future of aviation in this country.”
He mentioned the debate occurring in Washington, D.C., over the FAA’s structure and sources of funding. He noted how unmanned aircraft systems have changed “the very definition of what aviation is.” Modernization, Huerta said, is the key to a safe and efficient air traffic system, and the key to meeting growing demand.
“We look forward to a reauthorization that helps the FAA build on its unparalleled safety record and continues modernizing our air traffic control system,” he said. “We also must ensure that one of our nation’s most valuable assets – the air above our heads – remains available to all users.”
The FAA’s new Compliance Philosophy emphasizes collaboration.
“Compliance Philosophy recognizes that to find and fix safety problems, there has to be an open and transparent exchange of information and data between the FAA and industry,” Huerta said. “We don’t want operators who might inadvertently make a mistake to hide it because they have a fear of being punished. It recognizes everyone has an ownership stake in safety.”
The accident rate in general aviation was at 0.81 fatal accidents per 100,000 flight hours as of July 31, according to Huerta. Years ago, he said, the goal was to achieve one fatal accident per 100,000 flight hours. That goal was reached in 2015. Along with those numbers, the GA community’s participation in the Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing system (ASIAS) shows a “commitment to safety,” he said.
“When we first started inputting GA operations into ASIAS in 2013, two operators stepped forward to provide their data to the program. Today, just four years later, 59 out of the 60 corporate business participants in ASIAS are NBAA members,” he said. “Other NBAA members have embraced data-sharing tools that have been developed for the GA community, providing us with exponentially more valuable safety data to analyze and to learn from.”
With the FAA’s 2020 ADS-B Out mandate drawing closer and closer each day, Huerta made sure to address it. That deadline date is not going to change, he reiterated.
“But no matter how many times we say that, too many GA aircraft owners are delaying taking their planes in for these upgrades,” Huerta said. “Only about 30,000 are currently in compliance, while a much larger number will need to get equipped to operate in most controlled airspace.”
He said that with all the safety benefits and costs as little as $2,000, there is “no reason not to” equip with ADS-B Out.
Huerta thanked NBAA for relaying the ADS-B message to its members.
The FAA rewrote its airworthiness standards for smaller GA aircraft due to years of aircraft and technology manufacturers expressing frustration, Huerta said.
“We’re no longer telling manufacturers how to build these aircraft,” he said. “What we’re doing now is defining the safety goals we want to achieve and giving industry the leeway to come up with innovative solutions.”
In August, a new rule went into effect that should speed up the certification process from start to finish, according to Huerta. It should have positive effect on electric propulsion systems, VTOL aircraft and avionics — including performance-based navigation (PBN).
PBN, Huerta continued, is an area in which the FAA has worked closely with the GA community. He explained that it can help aircraft land at airports under low-visibility conditions with a stabilized approach, and it can increase dedicated and precise routes from satellite airports.
“Just down the street from here, Henderson Executive Airport is a prime case in point,” he said to the Las Vegas audience. “As you well know, the airspace around Las Vegas is both constrained and congested, with multiple civilian airfields fed by flight corridors that are limited by large blocks of military airspace.”
He continued to recount the RNAV procedures the FAA published in 2011 with coordination with NBAA. And the FAA is now focusing on North Las Vegas Airport, developing RNAV arrival and departure procedures.
In partnership with the Clark County Department of Aviation and fixed-base operators at McCarran and Henderson, Huerta said the FAA developed a departure tool. It enables GA pilots to get real-time information on scheduled departures at both airports.
“We stress-tested this concept during the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight in August, and it proved that it worked,” Huerta said. “Departure delays were far lower and significantly shorter than they were following previous events that drew in lots of GA aircraft.”
Huerta ended his speech with a look back at his seven years with the FAA. Those years, he said, have been the “most rewarding” of his career.
“Not just because we have accomplished so much together, under often challenging circumstances,” he said. “It’s because I have had the chance to work with some of the brightest and most committed and passionate people in aviation, both inside and outside the FAA.
“Aviation has always been about seizing new opportunities and pushing the envelope just a little farther,” he continued. “It’s also one of the few industries, if you think about it, where you can see history and the future sitting side-by-side on the same airport ramp.”