Regular Jetwhine readers know that a story posted here relating to the FAA is not unusual, nor is the fact that I tend not to be terribly supportive of some of the people who work there. Regular readers should know that I try – note the word try – to walk that fine line about who I pick on.
Mostly it’s the management side of the agency simply because they always seem to manage to make a mountain out of molehill as was the case when Marion Blakey was the boss. I never could quite figure out Bobby Sturgell although many management folks told me he was a pretty good guy. Of course there are always those times when the agency seems to ignore a situation it really should be paying attention to. Sometimes though, when the situation warrants, I must admit we’ll write about some rank and file silliness, like the piece about West Palm Beach.
Every so often some event pops in to my life that forces me to look at the people who run the agency in a new way. Such was the case after the pieces I wrote about VFR Towers and also about the FAA Safety Hotline over the past month.
The tower story made Jetwhine’s comment section explode with a new record of nearly 100 opinions. On the FAA Hotline story, there were just a few. What happened behind the scene of the hotline story however was truly fascinating.
One evening, just as I was getting ready to leave work, the phone rang. I was all alone and ready to bolt so I let it go to voicemail. I thought again before I left and dialed in to listen.
In a calm, baritone voice I heard the man explain the reason for his call. It was FAA’s Administrator Randy Babbitt calling to tell me he’d read the hotline story and would be nudging folks in DC to look in to the problem. In case you missed it, I ranted a tad about how poorly the hotline system worked, but also mentioned the need to address the safety issue I’d called about. Randy Babbitt confirmed that we were both on the same page. Babbitt was President of the Air Line Pilots Association when I flew for Midway Airlines BTW, so while we never met, I certainly knew of this man from another life.
Not long after Capt. Babbitt’s call, the wheels of government indeed began turning. In the past week, my phone has been regularly lighting up with calls from the “202” area code trying to solve the problem that caused my hotline call. Been sort of an “all FAA top brass” week of sorts which actually gave me a little insight when a FOX TV News producer called me the other day.
He was after some background on last week’s story about the dramatic increase in near-misses (I really hate that term BTW. Makes it sound like we should go back and try to get it right). We spoke at length and the topic of the current administrator came up.
I told the reporter what I thought about how Babbitt was handling things versus the methods of his predecessors. “Would it be fair to say that you and others in the aviation industry like Randy Babbitt?” he asked. I thought for a moment and said no, that I couldn’t really say that pilots, controllers, mechanics, avionics technicians and all the rest like Babbitt more than administrators who came before.
“But we do respect him,” I replied. And that’s a new concept for an administrator … at least coming from me.
Rob Mark, editor