Supporters of Trump’s Pilot for FAA Defend Choice Say Agency is Expendable

March 2, 2018 / 2 Comments

Dunkin featured on Smithsonian Channel documentary. Click on photo for details about how and when to watch.

After criticizing President Trump for putting forth his personal pilot as a candidate to lead the Federal Aviation Administration, I was chastised by some on my Flying Lessons Facebook page, who argue aviation’s stellar safety record was not the result of the FAA, but in spite of it.

That’s preposterous.

The idea that left to their own devices, aviation stakeholders will always act in the best interests of the flying public has been disproved time and again.

It is the rare but not unknown circumstance when an airline or airplane manufacturer purposely hides known design flaws. (See these two books on Turkish Flight 981 and American Eagle Flight 4184 for illuminating history of two such instances.) Far more likely is the Dreamliner battery case where competitive pressure creates a sort of mission blindness. Boeing simply didn’t know what it didn’t know about using volatile lithium ion batteries on its new jetliner. Had the FAA not ordered a fleet wide grounding of the 787, would Boeing have self-policed? The FAA decided not to make that bet.

ANA Flight 692 on the tarmac at Takamatsu airport after its emergency landing in 2013. Photo courtesy of passenger Kenichi Kawamura

Granted, in that case and in many, many, others, the FAA didn’t take decisive action until public or political pressure was applied. I refer you again to the case of the ATR-72, the DC-10 and various Cessna airplanes where undetected water in the fuel tanks remains unaddressed for decades.

Still, the list of safety improvements enacted by the FAA over the years includes several technologies that unquestionably enhanced safety, including traffic collision avoidance, ground proximity warning systems, and fuel tank inerting systems. Inside the cabin, flame retarding materials and seats that withstand 16Gs of impact are responsible for improving survivability.

Solutions fit to handle today’s challenges; modernization of airspace and unmanned aircraft to name but two, are also slow out of the door of the FAA.

From 2000 to 2005, I served on an FAA rulemaking advisory committee looking into how the agency might better handle the problems of aging aircraft systems. The ATSRAC was created following an in-flight fire on Swissair Flight 111 which killed 229 people when it crashed into the Atlantic in 1998. Our work resulted in new rules for flight crew and maintenance workers and new processes for inspection and operation of aircraft with aging wiring systems.

Wreckage from the crash of Swissair MD-11 in 1998

During my time on the ATSRAC I learned how difficult it is to steer a government bureaucracy with more than 50,000 employees and a sweeping mission. I’m no Pollyanna, I suspect intentional foot-dragging and political interference is part of the territory. But I also learned that there are well-intentioned, knowledgeable and dedicated people who want what we all want, safe skies. And they are working hard to achieve the goal despite the politics and red tape.

To suggest the industry would be better off without the FAA flies in the face of logic and accident statistics. Further, the FAA’s role extends far beyond American airspace. It is a standard setter for air regulatory bodies in many other countries.

I have no quibbles with John Durkin’s piloting skills. I do object to the idea that a pilot license, experience managing a fleet of 4 aircraft and proximity to the president are all one need to navigate the complex and critical work of assuring and enhancing safety.

Because safety isn’t an afterthought, its a specialty. Same for management. And yes, knowing how to make things happen in a highly politicized environment requires expertise too.

Without understanding these aspects you get folks who bumble along, unwittingly setting the dishes to clattering. If you want to know what that looks like, cast an eye on Dunkin’s chief supporter; President Donald Trump.

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Categories: Flying Lessons


2 responses to “Supporters of Trump’s Pilot for FAA Defend Choice Say Agency is Expendable”

  1. david venz says:

    Just because you can drive a car doesn’t mean you know anything about what is under the hood, or you are capable of designing highways and interchanges. trump’s pilot should stick to driving.

  2. Roger says:

    The mere suggestion of an iconic aircraft like the 182 potentially being at risk is truly saddening. To me, the gorilla in the room is the lack of an adequate, sustainable pilot-customer base to support the GA industry. The FAA continues to keep many aspiring pilots out of the air with baseless requirements (and wildly expensive costs for additional testing and special issuances) preventing acquisition of a medical. Just the cost involved in some areas to earn a PPL and Instrument Rating are now on par with the purchase of a small car. It is ironic that the ALPA had much to do with the watering down of what was initially a robust driver’s license certification proposal (Class III medical reform) and now is facing a pilot shortage in the near future. And when we hear about pilots collapsing in the air the majority are airline pilots with Class I medicals. Can’t have this both ways. We need to find solutions to increase access to aviation across the board. Inflation and other monetary adjustments aside, the costs involved now are prohibitive (as far as owning a new or even slightly “pre-owned” aircraft) for all but the extremely well-off. While flying was never for the “faint of wallet,” it was not like the present. Flying clubs fractional ownership wonderful ideas but we need to go a lot farther here if GA is going to survive on any meaningful level. We need more pilots in the GA population. Best regards.

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