GAMA Board Member Testifies About the U.S. Air Traffic Control System

Hartzell Propeller President and Tailwind Technologies Chief Operating Officer Joe Brown testified recently before the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee at a hearing titled, “The Need to Reform FAA and Air Traffic Control to Build a 21st Century Aviation System for America.”

Brown, whose company’s origins are linked to the Wright brothers and their pioneering work in Dayton, Ohio, provided the committee with a unique perspective as a businessman, private pilot and citizen.

“Aviation is more than a business interest,” said Brown. “I am a pilot and fly 400-plus hours a year in the U.S. airspace system. I am in an airplane almost every week, typically multiple times per week, utilizing the full range of the air traffic control system.”

In addition to being on the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) Board of Directors, Brown is also a former GAMA Chairman, sits on the board of the Experimental Aircraft Association and is a member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the Seaplane Pilots Association and The Recreational Aviation Foundation.

Remarking about the importance of the U.S. airspace system, Brown said jobs and continuing investment in the U.S. aviation system depend on a robust, stable and predictable climate for all U.S. airspace users. His said his business and customers exist because the people of the United States, the Congress and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have made it possible for citizens to use the skies freely as commerce corridors and they do so in volumes that no other country can match.

From his perspective as a private pilot, Brown explained to the committee the ease of using the U.S. air traffic control system, which allows him — and 580,000 other pilots — to file a flight plan in as little as five minutes before his departure or days before from an app on his smart phone. He then receives a text back of his expected route.

“In this country, you can fly when you want, where you want, utilizing a vast array of scheduled service, on demand and private aviation solutions,” he said. “Once airborne, air traffic control knows who I am, where I am and where I am going before I even call them, through a potent combination of ADS-B radar and talented controllers.”

An experienced user of new technologies, Brown told the committee that NextGen is working and delivering real benefits, something he has heard others in the aviation industry say, including airline executives and the president of the Air Line Pilots Association. While some argue that an organization model like NAV CANADA would improve U.S. air traffic control modernization outcomes, Brown said that in most cases, NAV CANADA has taken technology invented by the FAA and deployed it.

“The system needs and scope are totally different in each case, with NAV CANADA managing far less complexity,” he said. “Different challenges require different solutions and ours are working well for our needs, thanks to FAA and its tremendous controller workforce, its research and development efforts, strong involvement from the industry and strong oversight by Congress.”

Brown believes that the U.S. skies belong to the people and should be managed by their elected representatives and the FAA, which can balance collective interests and adjudicate access. He said he finds the proposal to privatize air traffic control on principle, “deeply troubling” due to the nature of the proposed new entity that would oversee the system, the transition time to the new system, the financial risk involved in such a transition and the overall costs and benefits of such a change.

“As I business man, I consider risk/reward relationships in every deal that we do,” said Brown. “I believe it is imprudent to take five-to-seven years to, at best, get the same car with a new paint job while also delaying progress on modernization and other pressing priorities we face right now.”

Brown disagreed with the conclusion that the FAA Air Traffic Organization would benefit from a lengthy and radical change. He said the FAA Air Traffic Organization has considerable strengths, but there are weaknesses that need to be addressed, which is why he advocates that Congress and industry work to move forward together considering the March 2017 recommendations of the Management Advisory Council (MAC).

“The United States does indeed possess the safest, most cost effective, most technically advanced air traffic control system in the world, bar none,” Brown testified, in closing. “I commend all of the ATO stake holders for capitalizing on this national treasure and doing their jobs with such incredible expertise, and I thank in particular the controllers for moving us safely through the skies. Models like the NextGen Advisory Committee are working and we should look for opportunities to build on these examples and tackle the kind of challenges FAA’s MAC has outlined. This year, as Hartzell Propeller celebrates its 100th anniversary, I look forward to working with all of you to maintain this leadership.”