At a speech before the RTCA, recently confirmed FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt offered some of his views on NextGen:
The only way we’re going to get rotation on this is by making sure the parties are at the table, making sure that their voices are heard. That’s the way I intend to keep it. Decisions made in a vacuum will bring the system to its knees. We’ve seen that before, and I have no desire to see us learn that lesson again.
We need constructive input. The FAA should not try to address policies or governing principles in a vacuum if we intend to maximize effectiveness. Policies can promote enhanced benefits, but we’ve got to craft them appropriately. The NextGen Implementation Task Force has more than 350 people involved, and the working groups have 280. That shows me that you’re willing to speak up, and from where I stand, that’s what we need. [..]
While I’m putting things out that, I’ve got to add this — NextGen is just flat out not moving fast enough. We must accelerate NextGen. I want more, and I want more faster. This administration has been unequivocal in its statements that the status quo just won’t go. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been flying since my sixteenth birthday, and the pilots and the people around them in this mix are eager to have things that advance safety and efficiency. I count myself in that group.
I’ve got to close with a couple of thoughts. One, NextGen is a clear priority. And let me say for the record that I’m interested in delivery. I have absolutely no plans to get involved with the arguments about NextGen or NowGen or then or when Gen. I’m not one for labels. When you boil all this down, and all the liquid is gone, the task at hand remains the same. We’ve got to make the system more efficient, and we’ve got to make it safer while doing it. Let’s face it. We don’t have the time to argue about what to call it. What we know is that Congress and the taxpayer want something now. I think they’re right to ask for it.
From Dow Jones Newswires:
The Senate late Thursday confirmed two of President Barack Obama’s key transportation nominees.
Randolph Babbitt, an aviation consultant and former president of the Air Line Pilots Association, will now take the helm of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Two of Babbitt’s most pressing tasks will be to resolve labor disputes involving air traffic controllers and to find funding for long-held plans to revamp the nation’s air-traffic management system, a project known as NextGen. [..]
The Senate also approved John Porcari, who will leave his current post as one of Maryland’s top transportation officials to be the Department of Transportation’s deputy secretary.
From the Journal of Commerce:
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee voted to send to the full Senate for confirmation the president’s nominees for deputy transportation secretary and head of the Federal Aviation Administration.
The panel acted one day after a confirmation hearing for John D. Porcari to be deputy to Secretary Ray LaHood at the Department of Transportation, and J. Randolph Babbitt to be FAA administrator.
That means the two only await a final Senate vote to move into their jobs in top leadership posts for U.S. transportation policies.
In his confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, FAA Administrator-designate Randy Babbitt got a taste of the challenges coming his way. By the looks of it, Babbitt has broad support and should be confirmed without any real trouble, but the Senators’ questions were telling in their own right. Some examples:
Sen. Frank Lautenberg on the NY/NJ airspace redesign: “Would you hold the implementation of the airspace redesign project until you see that the interested parties, who have value to contribute, will be included?”
Lautenberg on tower staffing: “If confirmed, can you assure us that the Newark tower will be staffed to the volume of performance that we require there?”
Sen. Johnny Isakson: “What are you going to do to expedite the next generation and the FAA, technology-wise?”
Sen. Byron Dorgan on standards among regional carriers: “Mr. Babbitt, how could they be enforced if you put a co-pilot on a plane flying into Buffalo, New York in the winter with icing who says on the cockpit recorder, ‘I’ve never flown in icing and am very nervous about this.’ That cannot possibly be a standard that is enforced by the FAA.”
Randy Babbitt’s prepared remarks are here, and the full Q&A transcript is here. You can also view the video webcast here.
Don’t miss Tuesday’s nomination hearing at the Senate Commerce Committee. Besides FAA Administrator-designate Randy Babbitt, who will surely have to field questions related to the Colgan Air crash as well as NextGen, the nominee list includes White House Chief Technology Officer-designate Aneesh Chopra.
The hearing is scheduled for 11am; you can find more info here — plus, a webcast link should appear 15 minutes before the hearing begins.
From the Wall Street Journal:
Friday’s appointment prompted predictable accolades from various labor leaders. But reflecting Mr. Babbitt’s ability to appeal to industry, airline executives and the industry’s main lobbying group also chimed in with expressions of strong support.
Glenn Tilton, chairman and chief executive officer of United Airlines parent UAL Corp., said Friday that Mr. Babbitt’s appointment would be a positive step because he is “multi-dimensional, experienced and has been involved in the industry in a number of ways.” More than a compromise between airline management and union desires, Mr. Tilton said the nominee’s “breadth of experience was an important consideration.” His priority “should be moving the timetable forward” on the next-generation air-traffic control system in planning since the 1970s.
[..] Doug Parker, chairman and CEO of US Airways Group Inc., said Friday that he would be very pleased if Mr. Babbitt gets the job. “Randy understands the aviation industry extraordinarily well and he knows what need to be done.” He “absolutely” would speed up the move toward the new (air-navigation) system,” Mr. Parker said. “I think he’d be fantastic.”
Mr. Babbitt, who still flies small planes for recreation, managed to build a reservoir of industry trust partly through membership in a number of blue-ribbon government commission and advisory groups. In 1993, he served as a White-House appointed member of the National Commission to Ensure a Strong Competitive Airline Industry. He was also a presidential appointee to the FAA Management Advisory Council, created by the FAA Reauthorization Act of 1996.
Wall Street Journal travel columnist Andy Paztor had this to say about Randy Babbitt:
Randy Babbitt, an aviation consultant and former head of the country’s largest union representing airline pilots, is being vetted by the White House as the next likely administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, according to several people familiar with the discussions.
Mr. Babbitt’s emergence as the latest front runner follows weeks of talks among White House officials, labor leaders and lawmakers that had ended in a stalemate over earlier candidates.
Other names that emerged in connection with the administrator job included Robert T. Herbert, a longtime aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and Duane Woerth, another former pilots’ union president.
But with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood looking for an alternate choice, in recent days attention on Capitol Hill and among industry officials has focused on Babbitt. Specifically, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has started doing a background check and Obama Administration officials have alerted lawmakers about the likely choice. FAA officials declined to comment.
The developments, according people familiar with the matter, were partly prompted by the likely choice of former FAA chief Jane Garvey to get the No. 2 job at the Department of Transportation. Garvey reportedly sought out Babbitt to see if he would be interested in the FAA job.
The choice, if it goes through as anticipated, would satisfy labor leaders who have been urging appointment of someone to the FAA sympathetic to their views. Babbitt has labor connections going back to the labor-management struggles at Eastern Airlines before the carrier folded decades ago, he also is seen by many in the industry as more acceptable than Woerth.
It’s not exactly exemplary reporting, but someone told the Washington Post’s Sholnn Freeman that Randy Babbitt’s name has been added to the list of hopefuls under consideration for FAA Administrator.
A source familiar with the search process said new names are getting attention for the job, including Randy Babbitt, another former pilots’ union president. Babbitt recently served on an outside audit committee that looked into recent airline safety lapses at the FAA.
Thank goodness for the internet! Everything you ever might have wanted to know about Randy Babbitt’s career and accomplishments is available in this PDF.