Org chart showing FAA

Though AIRR had tremendous support from A4A, NATCA and many aviation experts, it encountered opposition from both sides of the aisle as well as both ends of the political philosophical spectrum.

The observation that “Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster’s plans for a revolutionary aviation shakeup have been put on the shelf for the 114th Session of Congress” was a catalyst for reexamining the FAA, its functions and purpose.

History is a useful tool to examine the roots of an institution and whether/how it might be reformed. In 1965, then Administrator Halaby, an exceptional administrator, wrote to the President about his frustrations in getting Congress to enact legislation needed by the then Federal Aviation Agency.

His analysis was that the FAA should be part of a Cabinet level Department. He wrote: “I guess I was a rarity – an independent agency head proposing to become less independent.” President Johnson endorsed the idea, submitted a proposal to Congress and signed the bill into law on October 15, 1966 which created the Department of Transportation.

Fifty years later, the FAA is faced with a similar challenge—to implement NextGen, much like Halaby’s difficulty getting his legislative priorities enacted and implemented. It is clear that neither the Administration nor the Secretary have adopted as a major priority this transformation of the ATC from ground-based to a more efficient satellite system. The Halaby-Johnson elevation of the FAA does not seem to be very effective today in getting NextGen fully funded nor implemented.

The Shuster solution would be to move the ATC into a federally chartered organization and removing the FAA from Congressional control/funding. This pause of FAA Reauthorization has created a moment to reflect—

By reviewing the major missions of the FAA to determine whether the work performed is political or technical, an answer to the above inquiry may result.

In the broadest assessment of what the FAA does, its decisions are much like Underwriters Laboratories or Good Housekeeping, their seals are “certificates” that the products tested are good/safe. Whether it is an aircraft, an airline, a pilot, an airport or whatever, the FAA uses its technical expertise to determine that the engineering is right, the skills meet standards or the airport is well designed; it then typically issues a certificate.

Given the objective and technical nature of this macro mission, political guidance does not appear to contribute much and holds the potential to be a negative (as suggested by the FAA’s own IASA audit criteria).

This is one of those articles that will appeal to the geeks and students among you who wonder how and why things got the way they are. It is a refreshing look in that it recognizes that what one worked might not always work.
J.E. Murdock III (“Sandy”) is a former FAA Chief Counsel and Acting FAA Deputy Administrator and is an Adjunct Professor, School of Public Policy, George
Mason University.



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