Modernize the air traffic infrastructure, says NBAA keynote

October 19, 2010

Representing the nation’s business community, Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, urged the federal government to modernize the air traffic infrastructure to help improve global commerce.

As the keynote speaker at the National Business Aviation Association’s opening general session on Oct. 19 in Atlanta, Donohue said, “If we’re not doing business around the world, we’re not doing business. Others are doing business.” The nation needs 20 million new jobs over the coming decade to put those out of work back to work and to accommodate economic growth.

Donohue also stressed the importance of community airports as allowing companies to more easily access their customers and employees and urged a smart energy policy that addresses the cost of fuel for airlines in particular.

John Pistole, administrator of the Transportation Security Administration, had his own thoughts on what airlines and aviation in general need to be effective.

“A one-size-fits-all approach to security doesn’t make sense. We need to apply rules in a tailored fashion,” he said, which was welcome news to the general aviation pilots in the room who fear draconian security measures that could cripple the versatility of business flying. One such measure proposed by the TSA, the Large Aircraft Security Program, was resoundingly trounced by business aviation. To its credit, the TSA listened to the 7,000 comments to the program and is in the midst of redrafting the security rule for the largest business aircraft. Pistole said a new version would emerge “soon.”

Meanwhile, he said the agency is working on a 2020 vision for aviation security from curbside to the cockpit and urged pilots to share their ideas with the TSA.

Pistole’s counterpart at the FAA, administrator Randy Babbitt, shared his belief that aviation must welcome change. “If we don’t change, we will fall behind in safety and efficiency,” he said. Noting the technology that people carry around in smartphones and in their cars, Babbitt said the cockpits of the future must make technology just as accessible. He did acknowledge that the corporate aviation fleet has the most advanced cockpits of any fleet in aviation. Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) is the keystone of air traffic modernization, but will be effective only if all aircraft are equipped, he reminded.

Such technology will go a long way in further reducing the number of accidents. Babbitt proudly noted that the number of serious runway incursions was cut in half in the past year—from 12 to six. Technology played a role in that reduction just as it has in opening up more airports in low-weather conditions—thanks to localizer performance with vertical guidance (LPV) approaches made possible through the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS). These new satellite-based approaches now number more than 2,000 at 800 airports—outnumbering ILS approaches.

Another success, Babbitt said, is a new regulation about to be released that deals with fatigue among pilots flying for the airlines. After 25 years of debate, the new regulation will take into account cumulative fatigue and circadian rhythm of airline pilots. And although the regulation at this point will only impact Part 121 airlines, Babbitt urged pilots at all levels to do a self-assessment before every flight to make sure they are not overly tired.

Thomas B. Haines

Thomas B Haines | Editor in Chief, AOPA

AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines joined AOPA in 1988. He owns and flies a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. Since soloing at 16 and earning a private pilot certificate at 17, he has flown more than 100 models of general aviation airplanes.