Dear FAA: Is the Administrator In Please?

By Robert Mark on June 13th, 2009

FAA Jetwhine One of Jetwhine’s earliest supporters – Matt Thurber – sent us this piece, one that I’m happy to publish. Matt is an old friend and a senior editor at Aviation International News, where I’m also a long-time contributor.

This piece would be disturbing in any environment, but in one where the new Administrator Randy Babbitt has only been in the left seat for less than a month, I’m honestly shocked. I thought when the topic was aviation safety, that we were all playing on the same team, but perhaps not. I also thought the public affairs folks at FAA had more integrity than this. Maybe that transparency memo didn’t make it over from the White House.

Rob Mark, editor

Yesterday, the FAA announced that it is holding a “call to action summit” on Monday June 15 to “improve airline safety. The day-long session will foster action and voluntary commitments in several areas of flight safety including standards for pilot training and performance. Secretary LaHood and Administrator Babbitt will be joined by representatives from the major air carriers, their regional partners, aviation industry groups and organized labor.”

The FAA goes on to explain how this meeting is being held. First there will be opening remarks by DOT Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt. Then after these opening remarks, according to the FAA press release, “Members of the media will be escorted [my emphasis] from the room following opening remarks. The meeting is closed to media.”

Nicely done, FAA. In the age of “nothing improves safety like transparency” and oh, by the way, this is a free country with a free press, the FAA is going to escort members of the media out of the meeting. Now, I understand that the airline, aviation association and union people might feel constrained if the media were allowed to attend this meeting, so I’ll let that part go, even though I’m eager to hear what they have to say (email me – as well as Rob here at Jetwhine of course – with details, if you manage not to get escorted out).

But couldn’t the FAA have handled this a little better? Why announce that you’re holding a closed meeting ahead of time? Or why invite the press then escort them out? A better way to handle this (and this isn’t my idea, so don’t give me credit) would be to hold the private meeting first, then invite the press in to ask a few questions and get a briefing. This way, everyone gets to participate, the press doesn’t feel like they aren’t wanted (which they aren’t, by the way, I’m not stupid), and no escortation is involved.

I can’t help wondering: whose great idea was this anyway? I’m going to have to go with our new FAA administrator, Randy Babbitt. Okay, Mr. Babbitt, communication in any form is always good. But dissing the communicators, not good. May I respectfully suggest: try again.

Matt Thurber

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8 Responses to “Dear FAA: Is the Administrator In Please?”

  1. Jim Says:

    The spin machine and lying to the public is part of the ingrained culture at FAA HQ’s. It will take more than the appointment of a new administrator to change that.

  2. John J. Tormey III, Esq. Says:

    We’re going in.
    John J. Tormey III, Esq.
    Quiet Rockland

  3. Stephen Says:

    Does this really surprise anyone?? Look at who is really calling the shots here. Good luck with that

  4. Jeff Says:

    Mr. Mark, I’m suprised this shocks you. It certainly doesn’t shock any of the current controller work force. The amount of smoke blown up our behinds for the last few years is testament to this behavior. Head over to if you’d like to be educated. Thanks

  5. Robert Mark Says:

    Jeff and all:

    You’re right. I should really know better than to be surprised, but this time around, with a new administrator, I guess I just thought maybe we had a chance.

    So tell me what the controllers are going to be thinking about now when they come back to the bargaining table? I can’t imagine this is going to make anyone feel none to warm and fuzzy.

    Thanks for your note my friend.

  6. Paul Cox Says:

    I also thought the public affairs folks at FAA had more integrity than this.

    Wow… Rob, there’s about two or three years’ worth of FAA Follies posts that you should probably read through!

    The reality is that over the past few years, the FAA’s PR people have proven themselves to be utterly without integrity. They have been caught lying time and again to the media, and we’ve documented that stuff over and over on the Follies.

    The biggest lie, of course, from a controllers’ point of view is in referring to the present work rules as a “contract”. Sorry, but in no way is a unilaterally imposed set of work rules a “contract”; a contract is something both sides agree to.

    But it goes beyond changing the basic meaning of a word. We’ve documented them lying about all kinds of things. The reality is that the FAA, like any large company or government agency (or like a large ship), takes a while to change direction.

    It took the Bush Administration several years to get the FAA changed into what it is now; it’ll take years for the Obama-appointed folks to get it turned back around.

  7. Robert Mark Says:

    I think I’ve been gone from FAA too long. I seem to have lost way too much of the healthy skepticism I used to have. That has obviously been a mistake. Thanks for pointing that out Paul.

    I am going to go back and reread some of the Follies and suggest our readers do as well.

    That’s folks.

  8. Mike Bennett Says:

    “Maybe that transparency memo didnt make it over from the White House”
    I don’t think the White House got the memo.

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