Randy Babbitt has only been on the job as FAA administrator for a little more than two months, but he’s picked up loud and clear on pilots’ concerns about the Transportation Security Administration’s plans for security. During the annual “Meet the Administrator” forum at EAA AirVenture July 30, Babbitt said his goal was to discuss the concerns he’s hearing from all segments of the aviation industry with the TSA administrator, once a candidate is confirmed.
Babbitt also gave the crowd of about 200 aviation enthusiasts an update on three key FAA initiatives that affect GA: increasing safety, working with the light sport aviation industry, and implementing NextGen.
The number of fatal accidents has decreased substantially this year, and it’s not because pilots are flying less, Babbitt said. The actual rate has decreased 12 percent. He credited the decline not only to industry outreach to pilots, but also to new cockpit technology, enhancements to runway and taxiway signage and lighting, and changes to air traffic control procedures.
He said the agency also is working to introduce new runway status lights and similar low-cost systems at small airports. All of this, he said is an effort to reduce the number of runway incursions. So far, the number of incursions has dropped seven percent since last year; the number of serious incursions (Category A and B) has dropped 70 percent from last year. Still, Babbitt added, almost two incursions occur every day.
“That’s not acceptable,” he said. “We’ve got to do better than that.”
He encouraged pilots to do their part by becoming familiar with airport layouts and charts and asking ATC to repeat or clarify clearances if needed.
Babbitt announced that as of May 2009, the light sport aircraft industry had about 8,100 in its fleet. The LSA/sport pilot industry, which was announced five years ago, is meeting the FAA’s expectations, he said, adding that the agency was going to continue working to upgrade that segment of aviation.
The light sport aircraft market “is a healthy industry, and all indications are that it will stay that way,” Babbitt said.
Rumors that NextGen, the future air transportation system, is only for the airlines are false, Babbitt stated. Instead, NextGen offers a number of opportunities for improving small general aviation airports by adding WAAS approaches. Currently, there are more WAAS approaches than ILS approaches, and the agency plans to add 500 more next year, he said. So far, 20,000 aircraft are equipped to fly these GPS approaches that provide ILS-like minimums. His goal is ultimately to get these approaches at 2,000 more airports across the country.
Babbitt also talked about ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast), which is a key component of NextGen. ADS-B can bring weather and traffic information into the cockpit, and unlike radar, it doesn’t degrade with distance.
The FAA is planning to mandate ADS-B “out” by 2020. Pilots would need to equip with ADS-B in order to continue to have access to certain types of airspace—airspace that typically requires a transponder, Babbitt said. He acknowledged that it is expensive to equip with ADS-B now, but that he expects prices to come down as more manufacturers enter the market.
Babbitt, who is a pilot and EAA member, also gave a special tribute to Paul Poberezny for a lifetime of service to aviation and his country. Poberezny, who served in the military, founded EAA, and has more than 30,000 hours.