"Pogue Award"
Michael Huerta, Washington, DC
June 30, 2014

Pogue Award Presentation

Thank you, Ken [Quinn]. 

The Pogue Award recognizes individuals with a lifetime of achievement in aviation and a vision for where this industry is headed.

Back in the mid 1940s, Welch Pogue chaired the Civil Aeronautics Board before the FAA existed. He then worked to establish a legal framework of rules and treaties for international aviation that helped mold the system we have today.

To win the Pogue Award, you not only need insight, you have to lead people and make the vision a reality.

Peggy Gilligan has done just that.

What Peggy has done is the very challenging work of changing the philosophical underpinning of how we think about aviation safety. She has engineered a sea change in the very culture of safety.

Peggy recognized early on that we need to move away from the forensic study of accidents and instead attempt to anticipate what the next accident cause might be, and prevent it from happening.

We need to evolve past compliance based safety to data driven safety. We need to stop being retrospective and become prospective.

Peggy has worked with industry, starting with the Commercial Aviation Safety Team, or CAST, to expand the use of data sharing among airlines and the FAA.

Now, more than 40 airlines and the FAA share their data through the Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing system.

This happened because Peggy is a known entity. She has worked at the FAA for more than 30 years.  She delivers as promised. Peggy lives and breathes aviation and she defends her community. She’s a lawyer after all. And she’s always prepared.

Peggy likes to joke that everyone comes to her when they want to remember what happened “the last time we did this.” She jokes that she is the doyenne of the FAA. But it’s no joke. So much has changed during Peggy’s watch that it takes a very smart person to synthesize it all and translate what it means. And that is so valuable. What Peggy offers is a rich institutional knowledge and also an open door.

When she first became Associate Administrator of Safety five years ago, she represented a change from the standard candidate. She was not a pilot or an air traffic controller. She was an attorney. But very quickly, any doubts about fitting in evaporated.

Her influence spreads across the lines of business at the FAA.  She heads one of our biggest cultural shifts—to risk-based decision making.  Through this initiative, we use data-driven tools to make smarter, risk-based decisions about safety and how we operate.  As an agency, we tap the wealth of data now available and conduct sophisticated analysis to identify the areas of highest risk.  The goal of this initiative is to get us to a point where we can redirect all of our efforts toward these higher risk areas. 

This will change how we do things in areas outside the Aviation Safety organization, such as the development of safety management systems and some of the work the Air Traffic Organization is doing to identify top safety hazards and target corrective activities.  This initiative will also position us to make risk-based decision making part of our operating philosophy across the entire agency.

Being data-driven helps us refine our safety oversight model that prioritizes safety inspection efforts.  It also will provide us with the tools to consider stopping certain oversight activities for known system operators that have strong safety management systems of their own.  This way, we can achieve compliance more efficiently.

That gives you an idea organizationally, but she also touches individual employees as well.  Peggy has been a mentor to many – young lawyers, women, safety professionals and more. People turn to her when they need a trusted source to explain the lay of the land.

Before I was Administrator of the FAA, I had the pleasure of working with Peg during the Clinton years when I was the chief of staff at DOT.  At the time, Peggy had a reputation for being tough but fair, someone who was going to hang in there as long as it took to make the point or underscore the need for action.

I learned then what I know now:  Peggy Gilligan really is the people’s representative for aviation safety.  She creates teams and energizes them, and makes sure they get the job done. 

The sum total of all this is that Peggy Gilligan makes a difference, and she makes a difference that will last.  The safety of the system that all of us enjoy is the direct result of her work and the team that she has built.  Hers is a legacy of vision, and of excellence, and it’s fair to say that like the previous Pogue Award winners, Peggy Gilligan has changed the face of aviation.  We are the better for it.