National Business Aviation Association

Administrator Stephen M Dickson (August 12, 2019 - present)

Thank you, Ed (Bolen), and good morning Las Vegas. Man, is it good to be here live and in person. 

I’m honored to share the same stage today with so many stars in the aerospace world. Each of you symbolizes a part of my job that I’m passionate about.  
Dean (Kamen), with more than 1,000 patents to his name, including the Segue, exemplifies the spirit of innovation in this country, and innovation is a huge driver in the FAA’s evolution.

Martine (Rothblatt) is an innovator and trailblazer who embodies two specific areas that FAA Deputy Administrator Brad Mims and I are dedicated to advancing—environmental sustainability, and bringing more power to people through diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. 

Teddy (Tzanetos), your next speaker, is proof that sky is no longer the limit. If NASA can make helicopters fly on Mars, then who’s to say what types of vehicles can fly here on Earth? And I have to admit, the one thing that keeps me glued to the Internet more than my hometown Atlanta baseball team is the ongoing adventure story of the Mars Ingenuity, and I thank Teddy for his huge role in that project.

And Rob (Riggle)—the pilot turned Marine turned comedian—personifies the need to keep a sense of humility and humor as we go about our work.  We’re all human here—and that’s actually a major factor in how we’re evolving the way we look at safety for the aerospace system.  

Safety, innovation, people, environment, and new entrants. These are all very much on my mind, and very much on the roadmap to the FAA’s future. 

You’ve heard a lot about innovation on this stage, and you see it all over these exhibit halls. It’s wonderful, and it’s exciting, but at the same time, when I put on my FAA hard hat, it raises my blood pressure. We, as regulators, have to nurture innovation while at the same time providing an aerospace system that is safe and efficient, and has the public’s trust. 

After all, the public fully expects all aspects of aviation to be as safe as commercial airlines and business aviation have become. We all know that companies and operators who don’t understand that are probably not going to be in business for long. 

So how do we, the FAA, fairly and equitably integrate all of this innovation into our National Airspace System and do it in a safe and predictable way? How do we do that without being a wet blanket for the inventors and technology entrepreneurs out there? And how do we use innovation to increase safety? 

Before I answer that, let me provide some background. 

Picture an aircraft in flight—maybe the new G800 that Gulfstream just unveiled, and you’re in the left seat or the electric magniX. There are the four forces acting on the aircraft—lift pushing up, gravity pulling down, thrust propelling it forward, and drag tugging rearward. 

There’s an old joke that I’m guessing a few of you here know—that the rearward force is actually the FAA holding everyone back with our draconian policies and regulations.

Now, that might have been true for your parents’ FAA, but for today’s FAA, think of the rules as a protective sphere or envelope that surrounds the aircraft. 

The envelope gives you, the operator or the pilot, a comfort zone within which you can be assured of a safe operation before reaching any edge. We’re all familiar with the edge—that’s where safety—yours and the public’s—might not be assured. 

So to answer the original question, “How do we bring in new entrants”? The answer is to right-size the envelope with modern policies, performance-based rules and regulations, and a large dose of collaboration with the aviation community. 

We do our best to allow for as much development and operational work as possible within the existing regulatory envelope, but sometimes we need to expand it or replace it where it makes sense.  

We recently expanded the envelope for space by rolling out more streamlined commercial space regulations back in March. They enhance public safety, improve the licensing process, and provide flexibility that enables innovation. By statute, we can’t regulate safety for the occupants of the vehicle, but we do have a hand in pretty much everything else needed to keep the public safe. That includes licensing launch facilities, launches, and reentries. 

There’s no doubt the tempo in space has been hot. This past fiscal year alone, we licensed 64 operations—59 launches and 5 reentries. That’s double the number from the previous year, and the pace is accelerating. 

One of those launches and reentries carried one of your keynote speakers tomorrow, Dr. Sian (Sigh-anne) Proctor, who flew aboard a private SpaceX Dragon capsule to orbit. 

We’re also in the process of opening the envelope for light Part 23 aircraft as part of the Modernization of Special Airworthiness Certificates, or MOSAIC, initiative. We’re working across government and with industry to write a new set of performance based rules to allow the industry to flourish, and do it safely. I want to emphasize PEFORMANCE-BASED. 

MOSAIC will improve and expand in the light-sport sector as well as kits and fully manufactured aircraft. Two examples: A light sport aircraft will be able to have four seats and an electric motor; and owners of Part 23 aircraft, not used for commercial purposes, will be able to exchange airworthiness certificates and install lower-cost safety equipment, the kind that experimental aircraft owners have had access to for years. 

Our goal—although I admit it is aggressive—is to publish a Final Rule by September 2023.
This is progressive, but it doesn’t mean we need new rules for every program. 

Take Advanced Air Mobility, which most of us know as air taxis. Electric air taxis could revolutionize the way we travel around cities. 

We already have several aircraft in the certification process, and some companies are anticipating that they’ll start initial operations around 2024. One company even wants me to come out and fly their aircraft, and I’ll certainly ask Martine for advice before I do that.

These are radically different vehicles, but the protective envelope we already have in place for manned aircraft is large enough to accommodate AAM, at least for now. 

Now, none of this means it will be easy to get this new sector off the ground—it never is—but we’re being a proactive regulator. Within the FAA, we’re managing this through five areas of activity – aircraft, airspace, operations, infrastructure, and community—and we’ve launched an internal AAM-Integration Executive Council to keep a spotlight on the work.  And we recently established and staffed what we call the Center for Emerging Concepts and Innovation. 

Now as Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “With freedom comes great responsibility”, and our freedom to fly also requires us to take care of the environment that we fly in. 

I think we can all agree that aviation’s emissions must be reduced, and I’m encouraged by all the work that NBAA has been doing in this area, particularly with Sustainable Alternative Fuels, or SAF.

Recognizing the need for action, the White House, in September, set a new goal to scale up the production of sustainable aviation fuel to 3 billion gallons per year. That’s a leap. Right now we’re producing less than 5 million gallons a year.  

It’s an ambitious goal, but it’s potentially achievable if new policy measures are put into place...One example would be a “blenders tax credit” that will provide a per-gallon tax incentive for sustainable aviation fuel production.

At the FAA, we researching multiple avenues for sustainability. We recently launched the third phase of our CLEEN Program, with $100 million in contracts over five years. You may have seen that we also partnered with NASA to develop and deploy a software system that airlines can use to get to the runway at 27 hub airports without all the typical stops and starts that burn unnecessary fuel. 

The bottom line is that we have to put aviation on a path to de-carbonization, and that will require all of us to invest in sustainable aviation fuels coupled with technology, infrastructure, and operational efficiency improvements. 

We’re also responsible for creating a sustainable and renewable aerospace workforce. The industry as a whole is evolving rapidly and, at the same time, we’re seeing a large number of retirements and fewer and fewer people choosing aerospace careers. 

We talk about the need for pilots and mechanics a lot, but there are literally dozens of other types of positions to be filled, and we need to fill them with the best, brightest, and most diverse set of people from all walks of life. 

We need an industry where any young person, regardless of gender, ethnicity, geography, or financial background, has a shot if they have the drive and motivation to work here. That’s the only way to get the broad range of expert opinions that we need to make sure we haven’t missed anything when it comes to safety. 

Earlier I mentioned Dr. Proctor’s space flight, and I want to recognize her achievement. Trailblazers like Sian, Martine, and many others open doors for young people all around the world. It’s proof that if you can dream it, you can do it; no matter who you are or where you come from.   
And that’s more important than ever right now since the demographics of the aerospace industry over time have not changed appreciably. 

Diversity is the focus of two Federal Advisory Committees we launched—the Women in Aviation Advisory Board and the Youth Access to American Jobs in Aviation Task Force. Both of which are wrapping up their work, and I look forward to receiving their recommendations. 

This is a good start—and I thank each and every one of you who is helping us in the endeavor.  
Another avenue where I truly appreciate you help is in our constant endeavor to make business aviation—and all aviation—as safe as humanly possible.

We closed the books on Fiscal Year 2021 a few week ago, and the preliminary data shows that we had the safest year on record for GA in terms of the number of fatal accidents, per our current metrics. Now, we all know it’s not wise to brag about a safety record, but we have to give credit where credit is due—and it’s ok to celebrate, just a little, before we get back to work on continuing to improve the margin of safety.

I attribute this success to working together and being proactive and diligent and using state-of-the-art risk management processes, including Safety Management Systems, or SMS, that are fueled by data. SMS is all about using your own data to figure out your risks, and it’s here to stay. 
In fact, we have initiated a rulemaking that considers requiring aircraft manufacturers to adopt SMS, as well as the potential to require repair stations, charter operators, and certain air tour operators to have an SMS program. Rulemaking is a slow process, for good reasons, but you don’t have to wait. I highly encourage operators to get started with a voluntary SMS program. Come talk to us. Currently, we have four design and manufacturing organizations using an FAA-accepted SMS, with nine others in progress. 

There’s also a great deal to learn by sharing your data with the broader industry to proactively identify trends and threats. We do this through the Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing, or ASIAS, program. I’m proud that 143 of the 188 participating operators in ASIAS come from the business aviation community, and with your help, we can recruit more operators this year. 

We now have a Third Party Cooperative Agreement in place for smaller operators, where you can share your data with an SMS provider as a way to participate in ASIAS. We’re hopeful this will exponentially expand the ASIAS program.

You’ve heard me say it many times, and you’ll hear me say it many times more—safety is a journey, not a destination—and we’re on the journey together. It’s the same with equity, environment, and workforce. We have to keep plugging away, every day, to make sure we’re being as safe as we can, as responsible as we can, and as fair and open as we can be. That’s the path to a safe and sustainable future.  

Thank you for listening and have a great BACE 2021!