The FAACs, or the Truth about Aviation’s Future?

By Robert Mark on November 28th, 2010

image Don’t feel bad if you don’t find the acronym FAAC jumping right to the head of your aviation conversations these days. It’s not exactly front page news to anyone in the aviation industry, except perhaps the few dozen hand-picked participants of that group. FAAC stands for the Department of Transportation’s Future of Aviation Advisory Committee Secretary Ray LaHood initiated last spring.

The goal of the committee – right from the DOT’s website – is to provide information, advice, and recommendations to the Secretary of Transportation on ensuring the competitiveness of the U.S. aviation industry and its capability to address the evolving transportation needs, challenges, and opportunities of the global economy. It’s a noble endeavor to an industry that has been sometimes running, sometimes limping since 9/11. The committee is scheduled to release dozens of recommendations to the Secretary on December 15th in a number of broad categories including, Safety, Competitiveness and Viability, Environment, Labor & Financing.

While studying and developing solutions to the aviation industry’s world class problems is again noble, no one should be expecting much out of this group when those recommendations are made public in a few weeks.

Over the past six months I’ve spent no small amount of time studying the workings of the FAAC, which is predominantly comprised of people from the airline industry, not surprising when we have a president who has referred to general aviation/business aviation in non too flattering terms.

I’ve spoken to senior officials at the DOT, the FAA, aircraft manufacturers and suppliers and many of the aviation trade associations, all in the name of trying to determine whether there is anything worthwhile waiting around for. I attended one day of the entire FAAC meeting in Chicago and sat in by telephone on some of the labor subcommittee sessions.

Not surprisingly, my sources – all of whom asked for anonymity – spoke quite literally that the FAAC is a DOT driven PR campaign designed to produce something useful to make the airlines look good  … and little else. As a PR guy myself for many years, I can confirm that most of what I’ve heard on the phone and in person might make a few good sound-bites, but little else.

Despite the opportunity the DOT held closely during most of 2010 with dozens of aviation leaders literally at their beck and call, the department chose to focus in on the place where most of the money sits, the airlines. Honestly though, the airlines are better organized into a single voice through the Air Transport Association than is general and business aviation, so perhaps these results are not all that surprising. I’m also more than a little surprised that considering how major an effort the FAAC has been to the DOT, that the Secretary has never to my knowledge ever mentioned it in his Fast Lane blog.

Of course, I also understand the industry’s reluctance to take on the DOT directly. Who wants to tell the emperor he has no clothes when you need to work day in and day out with that same fellow? Better to play along and keep the Secretary and the President happy believing they’re actually accomplishing something even those most of the industry movers and shakers know that’s not case.

But what a waste of time and energy to bring together all these smart people and accomplish so little of value. Imagine if they’d actually acknowledged the coming pilot/mechanic shortage just around the corner and added a few recommendations to address that issue for instance, especially when everyone on the GA side knows that shortage will affect ALL parties.

Perhaps I’ll be proven wrong on December 15th and the FAAC will actually accomplish more than simply making a number of recommendations that mean nothing of value to the entire industry. For once, I hope I actually AM wrong on the 15th, because the industry – both airlines and business aviation – have many interdependencies that will begin coming home to roost once the economy turns around.

And interesting side note in my research. I asked two different DOT officials for their reaction to the industry belief that the FAAC was little more than an elaborate PR effort. One woman was shocked saying she’d never heard such a thought anywhere before and found it impossible to believe despite anything I told her. The other woman simply dodged the question each time I asked. That alone offered me some significant confirmation of my theory not to mention the documents and links this same official promised to deliver … papers that would demonstrate just how firmly the department was considering business and GA in their discussions. Surprisingly (sorry I don’t have emoticons for sarcasm) none of those documents or links ever found their way from the DOT to my inbox.

Finally though, let me say this. I love being able to poke and prod at the government arm of our aviation industry and am proud of the fact that we live in a society where I can. As Sir Winston Churchill once said, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

There will be a time for business and general aviation to make their points with the government I’m sure. December 15, 2010 just won’t be it though.

Rob Mark, editor

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3 Responses to “The FAACs, or the Truth about Aviation’s Future?”

  1. Rick Says:

    Rob,

    Being still a bit of a technological Neanderthal, I am not sure where the Comment button was, so I just thought I’d reply here.

    As usual, your analysis is right on the money – I so enjoy ANYTHING you put out there.

    It is a bit obvious what is going on here…in fact I would take it just a step further from your mention of the attention given to Labor. Is all of this – or at least one piece of the agenda, designed to explore ways the airline industry can bolster or improve conditions/pay for the various unions that besiege it? We know how important the unions are to this Administration – it’s one of the few bastions of voters it has remaining.

    Overall, I believe that this effort will become its own self-fulfilling prophesy, as you yourself has already hinted as such: it is all irrelevant. It will go nowhere. Monitoring stills needs to be done by the Private Aviation industry for whatever self-serving legislation happens to accidently filter out of this in the name of their “progressivism”.

    There is a more excellent way to do this.

    I never offer criticism without offering a positive solution. If there is to be positive change resulting in positive coordination with the feds since they control “our” airspace, there needs to be an industry-only Committee/Forum/Commission/Whatever. Aviation as a whole, as an industry, does not depend on government to survive. Bernoulli’s Principle does not need government approval to generate lift over a wing. So, why have them at the table at all? I am currently leading a project regarding a major attraction alongside the Tennessee River in Alabama, and we will have no government ANYTHING at the table in the beginning. This is a people-driven initiative, not a government credit/handout/glory-seekin’ program. When we need permits from some little department at the right time, we’ll get them.

    Having government at the table of the aviation industry to help discuss challenges, needs, and opportunities in the coming years is about as non-productive as government employees joining the local Chamber of Commerce on behalf of their government department: not sure why they need to do that, but it does allow ‘em to get out of the office every once in a while and strut around.

    Yes we must work with “them”. But let’s not let that intimidate the industry from meeting on their own to offer REAL recommendations to the DOT, and follow-up by holding them accountable in the court of public awareness and opinion.

    Let’s have an excellent day.

    Rick

  2. RP Joe Smith Says:

    The problem with Rick’s proposal, from our (GA) standpoint, is the unlikelihood that the big boys (the airlines) would participate in any meaningful way. He’s missed the main point of the problem: they have the government’s ear, their image is the main thing likely to be promoted by the Commission, and they have little incentive to help anything that took even a broad, let alone an in-depth, look. That doesn’t mean trying to assemble something meaningful should not be tried; it does mean such an assembly should start without illusions over the challenge to exercise meaningful influence.

    R.P. Joe Smith, Immediate Past President, Oregon Pilots’ Association, and member, Oregon Aviation Board.

  3. Robert Mark Says:

    I did think it odd from the start that the industry did not initiate something on its own that could be just as comprehensive as what the DOT plan offers.

    To be fair to GA, we do organize quite a few small initiatives on a variety of subjects, but nothing that is as sweeping as what the FAAC promised.

    I still think we spend way too much time fearing what the Feds MIGHT do than we need to.

    If we as a division of aviation made some solid proposals and all stuck together on them, my guess is the Feds would be happy to help if we brought them in after we made a few industry decisions.

    Funny isn’t it that so many people want the government out of their face and yet we all – airlines and GA – spend a heck of a lot of time trying to make everything work to their satisfaction before we think we’ve made any progress.

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