By now, you’ve heard plenty from me on the DOT’s Future of Aviation Advisory Committee (FAAC). The FAAC was thankfully put to sleep last month. I still think it was a colossal waste of resources to bring so much talent together in one place for a year and not at least attempt to address industry issues for ALL sectors of aviation.
Business aviation and GA were so clearly outnumbered on the FAAC, that I thought Ray LaHood should have called it the Future Airline Advisory Committee. Instead the DOT persisted with the claim that it spoke for the entire industry, despite the fact that Cessna’s CEO Jack Pelton (left) was the only general and business aviation member. Interestingly, Bill McGee, a consumer representative on the FAAC, repeated in a recent USA Today article much what we’ve been saying here … the FAAC was all about the airlines.
Despite Ray LaHood’s claim that the FAAC’s “recommendations … will not simply gather dust somewhere on a shelf,” few industry insiders expect much other than a few more meetings here and there. The question though for the rest of us non-airline types is precisely what efforts are being mounted to cope with the issues business aviation faces.
I asked two senior aviation people for their two cents about the best methods available to really make a dent in our industry problems. First I spoke to Jack Pelton and later with AOPA’s VP of Legislative Affairs Lorraine Howerton.
“The FAAC ended up being what I thought it would be,” Pelton responded to my first question, “an agenda that focused on the airlines that were in such [dire] financial straits. [It was felt] We might not have airline service if we didn’t do something. Participation was … mapped out very carefully … airlines unions and mechanics unions. They were even very careful to choose the size of the airports.”
Jack Pelton also wondered why the Secretary of Transportation – a man clearly situated high up on the executive branch food chain – was so directly controlling this industry conversation. “We need to be working directly with Congress,” Pelton said. “I think the real issues that general aviation is concerned about will not happen in these large public committees, but will really focus on what we do in our local associations like GAMA and NBAA and EAA and the GA caucus. I think we’ll see a lot of that in the coming year.”
Despite how the DOT’s faulty PR machine communicated what was happening at the FAAC, Pelton said he was happy for the one seat GA had at that table which insured that at least GA was not completely left out. Despite how things appeared to this writer, Pelton believes there was some benefit. “When you looked at each of the subcommittees work it affected everyone in the system. We just wanted to make sure it didn’t get carved out as an airline only system. NextGen, for instance, requires that a great deal of the equipage be transferred to the airplane. We want top make sure that there was going to be a system ready when we equip for it. We need the feds to help pay for some of this.”
After the final FAAC meeting, I also chatted with AOPA’s Lorraine Howerton (right). After months of playing he said/she said with DOT insiders, I wanted to hear about some of the universally effective ways available to treat the industry’s ills.
Howerton also sees the legislative caucuses as a path toward future success. “They’re a forum for members of Congress to be educated before they act on legislation,” she explained. “The House caucus recently stood at 125.” That translates into an impressive one in four legislators taking time to listen to the GA industry perspective. “There are quite a few members of Congress who don’t have a large GA footprint in their districts. The caucuses help tell the story that we’re not simply a bunch of fat cats,” she added.
Caucus meetings are smaller and more flexible – and inherently more effective – than anything as gargantuan as the FAAC, Congressional-sized hearings that often exist forever and sometimes bare little fruit. The House GA caucus dove in after the Hudson River mid-air last year and quickly helped rewrite critical airspace rules. They also ran herd – along with 7,000 airspace users of course – on the Large Aircraft Security Proposal that’s still yet to emerge from the bowels of the TSA.
Is there a caucus in your future? “There are so many topics and so little time,” Howerton concludes. “We really want AOPA members to encourage their own members of Congress to join the caucus to better understand the value of general aviation to the national transportation system.” I invited Jan Schakowsky from Illinois. Please contact your own members and ask them to listen in. The lunch is probably free too.
After I hung up with Howerton, I still couldn’t help but wonder how valuable a stronger business aviation perspective might have been on the FAAC with all those smart people gathered together thinking about the future of an industry that flies.
Why not ask the DOT yourself with a quick e-mail. They long ago stopped responding to my questions anyway.
Rob Mark, editor