"We Listened"
Marion C. Blakey, Oshkosh, WI
July 26, 2006

Meet the Boss


Thanks, Tom [Poberezny]. And thank you all for taking the time to meet with me. You know, I look forward to coming here every year. In fact, this makes four in a row. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If you haven’t been to Oshkosh, you don’t know GA. And if you don’t know GA, you don’t know aviation. 700,000 people. 12,500 aircraft. 18,000 campers a night. 100,000 people per day. And countless dreams.

Let me tell you, when Orville and Wilbur took off, I’ve got to think that this is what they had in mind. Acres and acres of airplanes. Row after row of some spectacular flying machines. Tom, I don’t think the Wrights expected tailgate parties under the wings, but progress is progress.

Before we get going, I’d like the members of my management team who are with me here today to stand up and introduce themselves. All right, thank you.

It’s also my pleasure to introduce another group of all-stars. As many of you know, the General Aviation Awards Program and the FAA have recognized a small group of aviation professionals for their contributions to aviation safety and education.

This awards program is a cooperative effort between the FAA and industry. The selection process begins at the FSDOs and then moves on to the nine regional FAA offices. Panels of aviation professionals within the various fields then select national winners from the pool of regional awardees.

The envelope, please. This year’s recipients are CFI of the Year Rich Stowell of Ventura, California; aviation safety counselor of the year Gene Hudson of Mission Hills, California; aviation maintenance technician of the year Joe Hawkins of Murfreesboro, Tennessee; and avionics technician of the year Terry Markovich of Bedminster, New Jersey.

I hope you can come to the Theater in the Woods where the awards will be presented formally. Gentlemen, congratulations. OK now, let’s get going.

Let me start with a hot button. I came to the FAA on September 13, 2002. My approach from the get-go was to listen to what the stakeholders have to say. For those of you who’ve been following our strategic plan — the Flight Plan — you know that we’ve opened up our books to anyone who wants to look. We asked you what’s important, you told us, and we incorporated those thoughts into our marching orders. And we post our progress on the web every month.

With that said, last year’s Meet the Administrator session brought quite a bit of heat when the subject turned to medicals. Truth be told, that’s been drawing a lot of attention for several years, even before I got here. But there is good news. You wanted the Federal Air Surgeon to modify the medical certification system to reduce delays airmen were experiencing in the issuance of medical waivers. That’s just what we did. We’ve been making changes incrementally for quite some time, and the IT investment — handling these electronically — is paying off.

The changes we’ve made have reduced the average waiting time for a special issuance waiver from several months to 16 days. Now, averages are just that — an average — and some of you have likely waited longer than the average to get your certificate. That’s because we do continue to see some very complex cases that require analysis and expert judgment.

But more than 90 percent of the pilots who walk through the Aviation Medical Examiner’s door get their medicals on the spot. The other 10 percent now are looking at what’s essentially a two-week wait. And that’s as it should be. So, how did we do it?

Nick Sabatini, Fred Tilton, Tom Poberezny, Earl Lawrence, Richard Jennings and Jack Hastings took a look at a list of ideas on how to make this problem a thing of the past. The EAA medical advisory committee got together to review the changes.

Specifically, we convened groups of FAA flight surgeons to process cases in the queue for review. This reduced the backlog immediately. Other groups will be convened whenever necessary to deal with future backlogs. We modified the system so that most cases can be reviewed electronically instead of manually. We also made it so that the regions can work cases that previously could only be worked by the Aerospace Medical Certification Division in Oklahoma.

We expanded the aviation medical examiner assisted special issuance process that allows the AME to issue waivers for specific medical conditions. We increased it from 20 conditions to 35 conditions — renal cancer, melanoma, bladder cancer, heart attacks, bypass surgery, to name a few. We also actively pursued the EAA and other associations to encourage AMEs to participate in the special issuance process.

We didn’t stop there. We started a rulemaking that will propose to extend the interval for first-class medical certification from six months to one year. For third-class medicals for pilots under 40 — from 2 years to 5 years. These two interval changes are consistent with the changes that ICAO is making. It is estimated that these two changes will reduce annual applications by 75,000 and therefore provide better, quicker service to others

So how’s it going?  Let me quote from an email from Doctor Hastings at the EAA to Doctor Tilton at the FAA:  “I really would like the world to know that we have dedicated people in the [FAA’s] Office of Aviation Medicine who do their darnedest to make things better for the aviator.” 

That’s the kind of endorsement that makes a public servant proud. We got to this place because when you spoke, we listened. Tom, we’ve come to count on EAA for sound recommendations, and you came through. You know, we certify about 450,000 pilots per year. The goal is to get better than 30 days and maintain it. We’re there. But I promise you we’re pushing to get better.

Let me turn now to a broader issue. It’s the one we always come back to — safety. As you know, there’s been a significant reduction in general aviation fatal accidents. That’s a tip of the hat to you because as we all know safety begins with you.

The trend is pointed in absolutely the right direction. There were 124 general aviation fatal accidents during the first six months of the year, 22 fewer fatal accidents than during the first six months of last year. The number of fatal amateur-built aircraft accidents is also down considerably this year, from 28 to 18.

The numbers are good in Alaska as well, where we’ve had a significant reduction in accidents. There were 40 accidents in Alaska during the first six months of the year, versus 51 last year. Four were fatal. More than two-thirds of these accidents resulted in no injuries. In many of these accidents, the rugged operating environment is a factor, particularly landing on unimproved surfaces. That’s a daily activity in Alaska, where GA obviously has a vital role.

That’s good news. That’s better than good news. That’s what happens when government and stakeholders push together. The FAA has partnered with industry in the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee to analyze accident trends and recommend interventions. This government-industry group is taking a data-driven approach to identify what we can do to prevent GA accidents — a scientific approach. They’re asking the questions:  What’s the data telling us?  And maybe more importantly, what’s the smartest thing we can do with it?

We know from the numbers that weather, loss of control and aeronautical decision-making are the leading causes of fatal GA accidents. We addressed these factors in a “FAA Common Safety Challenges” document emailed to over 200,000 pilots last September. How many of you received it?  We’ve also put an electronic library of safety information on line at www.faasafety.gov.

Remember, we’re not expecting overnight success. But as we chip away at the things that cause problems, we push the trend arrow in the right direction.

Because GA is so diverse, there are no general solutions to reduce accidents. There is no one size fits all. That’s where groups like this one come in. You’ve never been reluctant to share ideas, and I’m expecting that today will be no different. So, accept my congratulations on that safety record. You’ve earned it. Collaboration. Training. Add one to the other and you’ve got the makings of a safe flight.

You know, looking at the safety record, not just in GA but commercially as well, it’s clear that we’re at a turning point. Very light jets, microjets, whatever label you might put on them, we think that this is a market that shows real promise. This morning, I got a firsthand look at the Diamond D Jet. Tomorrow, the Eclipse 500. By the year 2017, we anticipate that there will be 5,000 very light jets in service.

It’s easy to look at these new breeds and make the presumption that the status quo for safety will naturally extend itself. We’re making sure that the steps we take will assure that they’re safe to use and that they’re used safely.

We’re working collaboratively with the VLJ manufacturers in developing new training programs. While traditional training programs were more maneuver-based, our newer programs use the FAA/Industry Training Standards approach. For those of you who know the acronym, it’s called FITS. It places greater emphasis on using scenario-based training to develop the pilot's aeronautical decision making, risk management and single-pilot resource management skills. It’s an old saying, but it’s still true:  train the way you fly, and fly the way you train.

Inspections. We’re working to ensure both maintenance and operations inspectors are adequately trained and that it’s timely as well. We’re training controllers about the capabilities of these new aircraft, which are slower on approach than most jets.

I’m equally pleased to report that light sport aircraft continue to show an enthusiastic response. Since I saw you last, the LSA market has seen extraordinary growth. What a difference a year makes. Now, over 36 different companies are manufacturing and delivering these airplanes. Several manufacturers have reported that their 2006 production lines are totally sold out. According to our Aircraft Registry, over 378 new factory-built aircraft have received special light sport aircraft airworthiness certificates. Cessna’s in the game too. They recently announced their “proof of concept” light-sport airplane. I want you to know that we’re working hard to get the infrastructure in place to handle the surge in light sport aircraft. I’m looking forward to hearing stories from you who’re going to be taking us up on it.

As you can see, there’s an awful lot going on. And with all of this said you have my firm commitment that we’re working to spend your taxpayer dollar as wisely as possible. Last year, I spoke to you about operating more like a business. That continues to be a priority.

And as I close, I’d like to talk about the big picture — the importance of system modernization and financing reform. Right out of the box, there’s no question that general aviation in the United States is more vibrant than anywhere else in the world. Equally without doubt is the simple fact that GA plays a vital role in the U.S. economy.

As you know, we are projecting demand for aviation — both commercial and noncommercial — to grow by 2-3 times over the next 20 years. We also know that the system as it exists now cannot handle such growth. We must increase the capacity of the system. Without modernization, congestion will increase and the entire aviation community will suffer. In the GA community, pilots would lose the flexibility and enjoyment of flying. It would be more difficult to gain access to the aviation system when and where a pilot wants it. Growth — and the jobs and economic benefits that come with it — would be constrained. That’s a world that nobody wants to be in.

Fortunately, we have an opportunity to transform the NAS into a next generation system while we increase efficiency and capacity. All of the major user groups — NBAA, AOPA, GAMA, EAA — support modernization and have a common interest in pursuing it.

Supporting it is the easy part. Paying for it is another matter. In order to develop and deploy the Next Generation System in the most efficient way possible, we need to change how the aviation system is financed. In other words, our revenues need to tie to the agency’s costs. The opportunity to do so only comes every 10 years, and it is upon us with the current system expiring on September 30, 2007.

This new funding system does not have to entail broad user fees for general aviation. There are multiple ways to recover a given amount of costs, and we do not believe that a “one size fits all” solution is necessary. While it is important that each group pay its fair share of the costs, let me be crystal clear:  we do not want to create a funding system that stifles the GA community.

We have also heard your suggestion that there should be a healthy general fund contribution to recognize the value that the aviation system brings to the general public, even those who don’t fly. We strongly support a continued general fund contribution.

Finally, it is important to emphasize that under any financing structure, Congress will continue to play a significant oversight role. We want to work with the GA community and your representatives in Congress to reform the financing system in a way that facilitates modernization and allows GA to continue to thrive.

I’m confident that we’ll do just that. The number of people in this room — the number of people at this show — is an indication that general aviation is important to America. I’m looking forward to working with you so that it stays that way. Thank you.

###