Between the sequester and the government shutdown, the endless summer of taxpayer and user funding has dried up. By the time you read this, the debt-limit crisis will be deferred or exacerbated. Mark Baker, AOPA’s new president, noted on several occasions during last week’s Summit that the FAA has some tough choices to make.
The FAA has many essential roles in the functioning of the national airspace system, aircraft certification, and safety efforts. But there are others that merely add to paperwork and payroll.
Here are a few items that I’d like to see the leadership address in collaboration with the users:
- AOPA and EAA’s petition for the third-class medical exemption should be approved. The number of annual pilot-incapacitation accidents is down in the “noise level.” That’s a technical statistical term meaning we can hardly measure it! Several friends, who also happen to be aviation docs, have openly admitted their inability to prognosticate when a pilot will physically dope off in flight. More than a few mentally drop off line in the judgment department—and we can’t predict that either!
During the last nine years, the light sport aircraft (LSA) “experiment” in medical self-certification has been a success by any measure. Lighter-than-air and glider pilots have always had this privilege and guess what? No carnage. The medical certification process costs the FAA millions and the pilot community many more millions, and it provides little safety benefit. Time for a change?
- Part 23 rewrite—lower the cost of GA aircraft both for initial construction and for retrofit. Mods to old aircraft today must meet current specs even though the proposed modification might be a huge improvement over original equipment. But if the new product does not quite measure up to the current rule—the perfect being the enemy of the good—no dice. The current GA business model for light aircraft does not work. The Cessna 172 should be renamed the C-374K, which is about what a new one costs these days. Cessna is not alone and there are many reasons why the costs are high, ranging from product liability to excessive overhead. But we can start with some common sense on design and retrofit. Time for a change?
- Stop the re-issuance of flight instructor certificates. I’ve been confused for decades as to why the FAA felt it necessary to reissue flight instructor certificates every two years. There is no quibble with the requirement for a biennial CFI refresher but we don’t need a new certificate. It should be handled like pilot currency. You may not act as a CFI if you haven’t attended a flight instructor refresher course (FIRC) or otherwise renewed your certificate, but we don’t need a new piece of plastic to verify that someone is current. A decade ago we estimated that thousands of hours of FAA time went in to this with no measurable benefit to safety. Time for a change?
- Right size the number of towered airports. Let’s drop the charade that all or no towered airports are expendable. There are legitimate criteria that go beyond several air carrier flights per day, or that a location is GA only, or that it’s a contract or federally staffed tower. Activity, traffic mix, and complex airspace are starting points for a reasonable discussion. And some of the big airports probably don’t need staffing around the clock. Most places except the freight hubs could close up at midnight and reopen at five a.m. Time for a change?
- Your turn to add or subtract from the list. It’s a guarantee that services will be cut—seems like we should be at the table to say what’s needed and what we can do without. Where can the industry or pilot community pick up where the FAA leaves off?