"Safety is Rule One"
J. Randolph Babbitt, New York
August 19, 2009

International Association of Machinists Convention

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thanks, Bob [Roache], and good afternoon. I’m going to make this simple. Number one, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers stands for America. Number two, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers stands for safety. And three, my father was an aircraft mechanic. So, let me recap. The IAM is good for this country. Safety is at the top of your list. And it’s in my DNA to recognize how important you are to aviation.

Here’s the short version of where I’m coming from. I’m a union guy. I’m a safety guy. And I’m a pilot. Suffice it to say that Randy Babbitt is in your corner.

As a regulator, I recognize that safety is the hinge on which the IAM turns. You’ve got jobs to do. You recognize the need for America to get from point A to point B; the passengers, the cargo, the business trips, the vacations. And with each and every component, you make sure that safety is rule one.

We take our role as a federal regulator very seriously. At the FAA, we’ve got a saying that if it’s not safe, it doesn’t fly. You’ve got the same outlook. And that’s not a marketing phrase or a punch line for the people in this room.

You need to know we’re taking steps to ratchet up the safety of the system to the next level. I’m here today because we can’t get there without you. Safety isn’t a concept or a plan or bumper sticker. Safety is an ingrained process, a mode of operation in which no stone is unturned. It’s a culture.

That’s what both of our organizations are pushing for, and that’s one of the main reasons why we share one particular safety hot button:  the rules for flight and duty time. As I think we’d all agree, this comes up in accident investigation more often than it should.

My goal here is to make this one of those things that used to happen in aviation. I’ve convened a rulemaking committee studying fatigue. The timeline is 45 days for a notice of proposed rulemaking. That brings us to September 1. We vet it inside the FAA first, then ship it to DOT — which should turn it around in less than 90 days; then the NPRM is on its way to the Office of Management and Budget. The proposed rule then will go out for public comment. By the way, I’ve requested both DOT and OMB to expedite this one.

Now, the focus on this one is on pilots. But fatigue doesn’t know about “class and craft.” It’s universal, and we need to start thinking about it that way. Our next move will be to look at other workers and their safety-related jobs. We need to study fatigue management for mechanics, dispatchers, flight attendants, and the list goes on.

All of these rules we use now are based on a premise that probably needs to be left behind. That’s why I convened that rulemaking committee and will convene others. I want to make sure that we get the answers we need. In rulemaking, not only does one size not fit all, but it’s unsafe to think that it can.

I think it’s shaping up pretty well. The current rulemaking committee is looking at the subject of fatigue science to determine some different hourly limitations based upon scientific data. They have presented physiological concepts of flight time, duty and rest limitations; including the definitions of rest, duty, and fatigue. Scientists who specialize in fatigue have made presentations about sleep opportunities, circadian rhythms and potential scheduling. And we are talking with other organizations around the world to see what they are doing to deal with this issue because it is an area of concern beyond our borders.

And we're having other discussions that are focusing on air carrier management responsibilities for employee education, support and professional standards. As you’d expect, mentoring and “experience transfer” comes up quite a bit.

And here, we plan to collect the best practices and innovative ideas. I’ll be sharing that information with airlines and unions. But the bottom line is that I’m looking to all of the participants to make commitments to ratchet up their approach to excellence. And I’m going to be asking you for the same commitments in the near future.

I’m talking about programs like ASAP — the Aviation Safety Action Program. ASAP has a tremendous potential to increase safety. It lets employees to voluntarily report safety information that may be critical to identifying precursors to accidents. It lets safety issues get resolved through corrective action. It’s not punitive.

I know that some of your organizations have a program like this, and some don’t. But this is the place we need to go. When something happens in the workplace, something with real safety consequences, you have to be able to raise your hand and say, “Hold on a second. We’ve got a problem here.”  And then it has to be fixed to prevent a recurrence. That’s the value of ASAP. You know, ASAP carries with it very little cost but the cost of not having it can be huge. Safety is a commitment every company has a role in. So do you.

Let’s shift gears now and look at the emergence of international markets. Whether it’s a U.S. or foreign-based aviation company, if they fly here, we’re the regulator. The reality is that aviation is global. There clearly are emerging markets overseas that you and I have to be aware of. And the forecasts tell us that’s the way it’s going to stay. With planes like the 787 and the A-380 coming on line, you’re going to have a lot more range, a lot more point-to-point that stretches the planet. Maintenance can’t be something that takes place only on sovereign soil.

So it’s both a challenge and an opportunity for U.S. industry. You need to optimize how you fit into a business that’s in global evolution. But the IAM is good at that; finding a niche with a talent-laden workforce. You’ll get there.

It’s because you’re on top of what’s happening in this business that I’m also looking to this group to advance NextGen, which is the modernization plan for our national airspace system. We’re going to steer away from the ground-based technologies of the 40s and 50s and 60s and move into the satellite era. You’re already seeing steps toward increased used of GPS which is changing flying in the same way it’s changed how we drive.

NextGen is faster, it’s cheaper and it’s greener by a mile. We’re coming up with ways to increase situational awareness in the air and on the ground, giving the pilot and the controller the same view of the system. When everyone’s got the same picture, it’s safer. And it will cut back on the amount of fuel that’s burned. That’s better for the bottom line, and it’s better for the planet.

NextGen’s going to change aviation the same way that ATM cards and microwaves have changed how we live — both here and throughout the world. How many of you remember having to hustle to the bank on a Friday before a three day weekend so you’d have some cash?  Did you ever try to reheat coffee? 

New technology and procedures are going to change how we fly not only in terms of efficiency, but will continue our laser like focus on increasing global aviation safety  You need to know that I’m pushing the envelope on NextGen, too. I’ve asked that its timeline be accelerated as well. So we can capture the clear benefits years earlier.

If you want to know where the industry is going, I believe you’ll find the answer in technology. I’m particularly pleased to hear about the work you’re doing with the Aviation High School. Any high school that’s a certified Part 147 Aviation Maintenance Technician School is my idea of an education. They’re just like an airline or repair station. The school has held this certificate for decades and has produced some of the best aviation maintenance people in the country.

It’s an example of America taking the right steps at the right time. I’m a big proponent of science, technology, engineering and math education. It’s the key to putting our kids in the place where they’re eligible for the high tech jobs that are coming down the line. What we know for sure is that aviation is changing. We know for sure that technology is a huge part of it. But we know that with math and science test scores lagging, the door to the future could be closed unless technical education and technical training are a part of the process. Schools like the Aviation High School are a part of the answer. I endorse that a hundred percent and then some.

I’ve heard reports about these kids. They’re smart, they’re tough, and they’re experienced. That’s exactly the kind of person you and I want on the line. That’s exactly the kind of person we want taking care of our plane. And I am optimistic.

But I’m optimistic for other reasons. I know that the people in this room can be counted on for nothing less than complete professionalism. There are many challenges we will have to deal with like mergers that aren’t pleasant, but that will not change your mission of safety and efficiency. Ramp workers, customer service agents, flight attendants, maintenance professionals, the list goes on. I know that the skilled professionals in this room are the personification of accountability and responsibility. That’s why we’re so safe. And, that’s why our track record of safety will continue. The FAA has always known it can count on the Machinists Union. I’m counting on it. And so are our passengers.

Thank you.