"Remarks at AirVenture"
J. Randolph Babbitt, Oshkosh, Wis.
July 28, 2011

AirVenture Forum - Meet the Administrator

Hello, Rod (Hightower) and thank you for that introduction. It’s a privilege to be back at Oshkosh – the world’s greatest aviation celebration. I love coming to AirVenture.

I made a point of coming here today because I have a great respect for the dedication and enthusiasm for aviation that permeates this event. I also wanted to come in person to give you an update on what is happening at the FAA, and explain why you may have noticed a different level of FAA presence around the grounds here than you are used to.

Last Friday, the FAA’s authorization expired because Congress failed to pass a bill. We had to furlough nearly 4,000 FAA employees in 35 states as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.

With thousands of our colleagues not receiving a paycheck we simply did not feel it was appropriate to send our normal contingent to AirVenture. We are completely supporting safety and air traffic control here as we always do. I regret that we are not able to take advantage of the tremendous outreach opportunities that AirVenture provides, but we need to be particularly conscious of the budget and use of staff at this time. It was a very hard decision to make, but it is unfortunately not business as usual at the FAA. These events affect real people, and my priority has to be getting this situation resolved. I need my executive team focused on managing the ramifications of the furlough. It’s all hands on deck to do that and to get the FAA reauthorization moving.

But this isn’t just about FAA employees who are furloughed. As a result of the lack of an authorization, we had to stop work on thousands of airport construction projects across the country. Our contractors had to tell their construction workers to go home. At a time when the construction industry needs all the help it can get, 70,000 construction workers are idle because we don’t have authorization to pay them for projects already underway.

Congressional inaction on the FAA’s reauthorization is therefore placing a significant economic burden on cities and states.

Major control tower projects in New York City, Gulfport, Miss., Las Vegas, Nev., and Palm Springs, Calif. have been put on hold. Closer to this area, control towers projects in Kalamazoo and Traverse City, Michigan are also on hold. FAA programs and thousands of public and private sector jobs are in jeopardy. Tens of thousands of middle-class families won’t see a paycheck.

During the last four years, since September 2007, Congress has passed short-term extensions of the FAA’s spending authorization 20 separate times. These serial extensions in 30- and 90-day increments create enormous uncertainty for states and airports across the country about the pace of these projects, but they have at least kept projects going.

We cannot afford to wait. It’s time for Congress to do two things. First, Congress needs to act and pass an FAA bill. But more immediately, Congress needs to pass another clean extension to our authorization as they have 20 times before, so we can get our employees back to work and get these job-creating projects up and running again.

In the meantime, we are maintaining the safety of our aviation system – and we are supporting operational safety here at AirVenture, as we always do. And I’m proud to say that we have the safest aviation system in the world.

I want to thank the general aviation industry and in particular the EAA and AOPA for their commitment to safety, and for being so helpful in getting the word out to their members. We can have all the programs in the world, but it means nothing if we can’t get through at the grassroots level. And thanks to GAMA, NATA, NBAA, NAFI, and SAFE for working with us on safety. Your cooperation and your input make our products better.

Now let me recognize some of the individuals who help communicate the safety message too. The people on the front row – our General Aviation National Awards Winners – play a big role. I’m really sorry I wasn’t able to be here last night to present these awards, but I want to recognize: Judy Ann Phelps, Certificated Flight Instructor of the Year; Vicki Lynn Sherman, FAA Safety Team Representative of the Year, Joe Morales, Aviation Maintenance Technician of the Year; and Russ Callender, Avionics Technician of the Year. Let’s have a round of applause for these aviation professionals.

And while I’m recognizing people, I want to pay tribute to a man who has dedicated his life to promoting aviation and safety right here in Oshkosh. Earlier this week, EAA Chairman Tom Poberezny announced his retirement after – get this – a “short” period of just 49 years with EAA. Wow. Tom’s legacy is all around us here at AirVenture. Tom – words are not enough, but a heartfelt THANK YOU for all you have done to support the best of aviation. And thank you for promoting the kind of ongoing cooperation between the EAA and the FAA that is so beneficial.

On the safety front, our collective efforts are making progress, because the GA accident rate for 2010 decreased by eight percent. But we still have a lot of work to do. I am deeply troubled by the number of fatal accidents we still see in GA, and I know you are as well. It’s not easy to talk about accidents, but we need to confront the reality. July has been an especially painful month. I get notified right away about every accident, and there have been far too many. All of us need to work together to reduce the fatal GA accident rate.

Many accidents result from a chain of events, and the human element is almost always a link in the chain. That’s why I have been talking about professionalism since Day One as FAA Administrator. I even wrote about it in the FAA Safety Briefing magazine. There are copies all around, so I hope you’ll take one and read the article. But I especially hope that you will take it to heart, and share it with your friends and colleagues who fly.

Professionalism doesn’t require a paycheck, and it’s not just for commercial airline pilots. Following the rules is a step in the right direction, but it takes a lot more than pro forma to make a professional. You become a professional by having the attitude, the ethics, and the discipline to do the right thing – every time, all the time, regardless of who’s watching. Professionalism takes discipline, it takes skill, and it takes knowledge. I am counting on you to make a difference by being the best you can be in those areas. That’s because your life depends on it. And other lives depend on it as well.

Now let me turn to another big part of our mission: NextGen. NextGen is the complete transformation of our national airspace system from ground-based navigation and radar to satellite-based navigation and surveillance. It is one of the most important things we can do to improve safety and efficiency in a system that is vital to the American people and to our country’s economic health.

There are a lot of people who think NextGen is about the far-off future. But NextGen technology is already taking us to the next level of safety and efficiency. And it is helping us make aviation as green as the grass on the North 40. I’m curious about something. Raise your hand if you have ever flown a WAAS-enabled RNAV GPS approach, such as an LPV approach. If you raised your hand, you’re already benefiting from the satellite-based navigation elements of NextGen. And I bet you’d agree that the investment you made for a WAAS-capable GPS navigator paid off the first time an LPV approach got you into the airport where you wanted to land.

Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, or ADS-B, is another investment that will pay off in terms of safety, efficiency, and situational awareness – not only for air traffic control, but also for you. Controllers use ADS-B to improve surveillance and separation, and to provide those services in areas that radar can’t reach, such as Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. That’s why we are requiring ADS-B Out by 2020 to operate in certain classes of airspace. But ADS-B In can provide some very important additional benefits to pilots.

Another show of hands: how many of you subscribe to some kind of weather data-link service? Most pilots are amazed by how these services expand their situational awareness. ADS-B In will provide traffic and weather information right to your cockpit display, with no need for a subscription. ADS-B means you can get VFR flight following in places with little or no radar coverage. And it may not take that long for the cost of new equipment to pay for itself in savings from the subscriptions you buy right now.

Despite the challenges we are facing right now, we are committed to moving forward with our transformation to NextGen.

In the immediate future, I am committed to doing everything I can to get our employees back on the job, and put those construction workers and others affected by the funding lapse back to work on projects we need. Transportation Secretary LaHood and I have been actively engaging the public and the media on this issue. We have made calls to mayors across the country to discuss the impact of the furlough on their communities. We are explaining the seriousness of this situation to the American people.

The taxpayers have entrusted us with operating the safest aviation system in the world. We will keep doing that – we will not compromise safety. But we need an FAA bill in order to give the taxpayers the aviation system this country deserves.

Thank you very much.