FAA Administrator Babbitt’s Recent Speech at AirVenture 2009

Good morning. My name is Randy Babbitt, and my EAA membership number is 814406.

When it comes to making a difference, EAA never does anything small. Look around. 10,000 airplanes. 500,000 visitors. If you’re asking me, there’s nothing quite like tailgating in the shadow of a 172 or a J-3. If you want to see the grassroots of general aviation, you’ve got to experience Oshkosh.

As a matter of fact, everything you see here is the brainchild of Paul Poberezny. I’d have to say that Paul is on a very, very short list of people who’ve really changed the way we think about airplanes, aviation and flying. That’s why we’ve got a presentation to make here, Mr. Poberezny. To qualify for the Master Pilot Award, you must have 50 years of U.S. pilot experience. When you’re talking about this type of skill and longevity, you’re in some rarefied air.

I’m going to read a list now, and for just about all of us, I’m guessing that we’d like to have any one of the following on our resume. Let’s start here. Paul established the Experimental Aircraft Association. He’s in the National Aviation Hall of Fame. He won the prestigious Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy. He was a military pilot for 30 years — that’s World War II and Korea. In fact, he’s the only man in the armed forces to attain all seven aviation wings the military had to offer. His log book tips the scales at 30,000 plus hours. He designed and built more than 15 different airplanes.

And this last one is the one that makes me stop. He’s piloted nearly 500 different types of aircraft, more than 170 of them amateur-built.

Mr. Poberezny, the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award is presented in recognition of a life of service to aviation, a life of service to your country, and it’s on behalf of a grateful nation. Paul H. Poberezny, master pilot. Hear, hear.

Well deserved. It’s a privilege and an honor to be on a stage with someone of that stature. It’s also quite humbling. 30,000 hours is a lot of time.

There’s another group of impressive individuals here that I’d like to introduce. They were honored last night, but I’d like them to stand again for a moment:

The 2009 National Aviation Maintenance Technician of the Year, Lucky Louque.

The 2009 National Avionics Technician of the Year, Jerry Stooksbury.

The 2009 National Certificated Flight Instructor of the Year,Arlynn Marine McMahon.

And the 2009 National FAASTeam Representative of the Year, Kent Blair Lewis.


One last group. These are skilled professionals whose expertise in aviation impresses me more and more as each day goes by. I’d like the members of my senior management team who are here with me today to introduce themselves.

I’m proud to say that I’m on their team. These folks display the skills and professionalism for which the FAA is known. Of course, I’m talking primarily about safety, which is our top priority. We’ve got lots of partners, and good news for all of us here, EAA is right there with us in lock step. And that includes the push for safety. When it comes to training, skills and always pushing to do more, Tom, you can take a bow.

The safety story in GA has become very, very good in the past several years. The numbers of fatal accidents are down substantially, and — in case anyone thinks that’s just because fewer people are flying — the fatal accident rate is decreasing steadily as well. Nine months into the current fiscal year, the GA fatal accident rate per 100,000 flight hours is running about 12 percent lower for 2009 compared to just two years ago. This is a substantial change in a rate that had been improving steadily but very slowly for years.

The improvement is clearly visible in trends among several traditional accident categories. For example, over the past 3 years, fatal accidents in general aviation from controlled flight into terrain are down by more than half. Fatal accidents involving loss-of-control-in-flight and approach-and-landing both are down more than 20 percent. Fatal accidents in weather have decreased nearly 40 percent in the past 3 years, while fatal accidents at night are down about 25 percent.

Much of the improvement reflects major changes in the GA fleet. Over the past six years or so, something on the order of 8-to-10 thousand new glass cockpit aircraft have entered the fleet, while a comparable number of existing aircraft likely were retrofitted with full glass or at least with some advanced technology.

To this we can add the several thousand new  business jets that have entered the system in the past decade or so. Virtually all these have come with glass during that period.

But there is cause for vigilance. Flight hours in personal aviation are way down. That’s due somewhat to fuel prices and the economic downturn. I’m going to say something here that intrinsically we all already know:  You can’t stay sharp if you’re not up there regularly. And if you’re not flying regularly, you’ve got to work extra hard to stay sharp.

There is other good safety news, this time on the runway. I’m pleased to say that EAA is working with us on runway safety — pushing the very type of training that will help make our runways as safe as they can be. As you know, runway safety remains one of our primary areas of focus. We’ve got to reduce the number and severity of runway incursions.

We are making headway. Our runway safety initiative has been significant and includes enhancements to runway/taxiway signage, markings and lighting and improved airport geometry. We’re making changes to ATC procedures and instructions. As the pilots in this audience already know, we’ve heightened awareness among you, controllers and airport authorities. We’re also introducing new technology like runway status lights. In fact, we’re preparing to evaluate low-cost runway safety systems that are headed for smaller airports.

All of the things I just listed are giving us some encouraging results. Total runway incursions in FY2009 are down 7 percent from the same period a year ago. Serious runway incursions — the ones where there’s great possibility of a collision — are down some 70 percent from last year.

Nevertheless, runway incursions continue at the rate of more than two per day — over 70 per month. Pilot deviations account for two-thirds of these incursions. And regrettably, just about three-fourths of these pilot deviations involve general aviation aircraft.

For those of us who’ve been flying in the system a number of years, the reasons for these incursions aren’t surprising. Inattentiveness, distractions, unfamiliarity with the airport, misunderstanding of an ATC instruction, and misreading of signs or markings are at the top of the list.

I’m not pointing fingers. The fact is, unless everyone in the room is pushing for surface safety, there’s always the chance that we’ll all lose. Make no mistake about it:  runway safety is everyone’s responsibility. I’m not just talking about pilots, but controllers, airport authorities, the people driving vehicles on the airport surface. Even if your area of involvement is only the thinnest slice of the pie, you’re just as responsible as the next guy.

For your benefit, we’re offering a comprehensive package of educational resources including booklets and brochures, CDs and DVDs, posters, quizzes, websites, emails, briefings and memory aids. They’re designed specifically to keep pilots, controllers and drivers capably informed on the various elements that comprise runway safety. These materials are readily available to everyone.

And they’re free. Go to the FAA website, and it’s there for the taking.

Before I shift gears, the takeaway from this discussion is a few key watchwords:  Be prepared. Stay focused. Ask for assistance from the tower.

A few years ago, we first announced plans for light sport aircraft, and the response continues to be overwhelming. As of May 2009, the LSA total fleet size was 8,100 aircraft, and there have been relatively few fatal accidents. While there may have been trepidation on the part of the nay-sayers about whether or not LSA operations would be safe, it’s clear that the levels are commensurate with GA overall. This industry is indeed in line with FAA expectations to drive LSA safety higher than current statistics for experimental amateur-built aircraft.

In fact, it’s fair to say that accident root causes here are common to other segments of general aviation. Indeed, LSA pilots take the responsibility of flying as seriously as their  GA counterparts with private, commercial and ATP certificates. They study and train and take notes. That’s what we’re all supposed to do. With all of that said, the FAA and this industry are continuing to develop and upgrade LSA standards quickly. We’re incorporating the latest safety information.

Bottom line:  LSA is a healthy industry, and all indications are that it will continue to stay that way.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t close with a word about our modernization plan, NextGen. There’s a perception out there that somehow, some way, NextGen is an airline program. That’s not true. NextGen is the entire aviation community’s ticket to the system of tomorrow, and it’s the only way we’re going to get there.

I think there are a number of opportunities within NextGen for improving small airports and the General Aviation community. We are aggressively deploying Localizer Performance with Vertical Guidance approaches for the Wide Area Augmentation System. Right now, there are 20,000 aircraft already equipped to take advantage of the procedures. We published 417 of these LPV approaches last year. Our goal for this year is to publish an additional 500. In fact, there are more LPV approaches now than there are ILS approaches. Needless to say, these LPV approaches can provide huge benefits for small airports and the GA community.

The fact is, NextGen will get you into places that would’ve been beyond reach. As pilots, we know that you can’t fool around with weather. Nevertheless, we’ve all heard enough to know that there is something out there that’s going to change the game. I’m talking about ADS-B. It provides weather and traffic in the cockpit. That’s a significant safety improvement that will greatly increase our situational awareness. With ADS-B, pilots are going to see just what the controllers see. That’s huge.

Keep in mind that ADS-B is operational in South Florida, and we’re aggressively infrastructure for it around the country. ADS-B can display terrain maps and moving maps of runways that show aircraft and vehicles on the airport surface. ADS-B also provides critical flight information, like TFRs and Special Use Airspace. It gives winds and temperature aloft. The list is long and impressive.

But I think what appeals to me most is that unlike radar, ADS-B data is real time. It doesn’t degrade with distance. We all know that there are places outside radar coverage. ADS-B can fill those gaps.

So, where are we? Right now, there are only a few companies marketing ADS-B avionics to the General Aviation community. We expect many more to bring systems to the marketplace over the next year or so, and the prices to drop with competition. While avionics performance requirements already are outlined in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, many companies appear to be waiting for the TSO and final rule. The draft TSO is targeted for this fall, with the final version being part of the final rule next spring. Weproposed to require “ADS-B Out” avionics by 2020 to fly in certain airspace — generally, the same airspace where transponders are required today. “ADS-B In” avionics, which provide free traffic and weather in the cockpit, will remain voluntary at this time. The agency will continue working with the aviation community to determine whether or not to proceed with a possible “ADS-B In” mandate.

Well, I know you have questions, but as I close, I would like to leave you with what I think is the most important point today. As pilots, we’re held to a very high standard. It’s a standard for safety. The inspectors expect that of us. Our fellow pilots expect it. And certainly, we expect it of ourselves. I’m talking about something now that is beyond the scope of regulation. There is no rule in the Federal Aviation Regulations for professionalism. If you’ve been following some of the accidents lately, you see pilot behavior entering the discussion. The sterile cockpit comes to mind. In at least one major accident recently, the pilots were talking when they should have been flying.

I’m asking you to do a self check about your own habits. I’m asking you to reach out to other, more senior pilots for advice. Compare notes. Ask questions. Look up your CFI and buy him/her a cup of coffee — and while you do, talk about safe operations.

We’ve got a safe system, but we need to step up, individually and collectively. You have my pledge that I’m going to do it. I’d like yours to do the same. Thank you.