INTERVIEW. Since AVweb came out strongly in opposition to the FAA's controversial decision to stop making airman mailing addresses available to industry and the public (see Mike Busch's editorial "Throwing Out the Baby with the Bathwater"), the silence from the alphabet groups and aviation press has been deafening. An industry leader who has had the courage to speak out on this issue is Martha King of King Schools. One of aviation's most respected flight instructors and business leaders, Martha discussed her views on this complex subject with AVweb editor-in-chief Mike Busch in this exclusive AVweb interview. She explains not only why the FAA decision is bad for aviation safety and inconsistent with the FAA's principal mission, but also discusses the extraordinary manner in which the FAA's top lawyers appear to have rammed this ill-conceived reversal of long-standing FAA policy down the throats of other high-level FAA policymakers (many of whom disagree strongly with it), not to mention the aviation industry and the airmen who are most adversely affected.
August 30, 1998
here talking to Martha King of King Schools.
Martha, thank you for agreeing to talk to us about this important issue. I
was present at the "Meet The Boss" session at Oshkosh this year when you raised
the issue with Administrator Garvey about the FAA's decision to withhold airman addresses.
How did you first become aware that the FAA had made this decision?
Well we've been in pretty regular communication with the contractor who handles
the actual availability of the FAA list the one that Oklahoma City hires for the
distribution on that and he had been hearing rumors about this since about December.
But no one was saying anything to him that was concrete. He just had friends at Oklahoma
City that would say to him "Well, I hear this decision is coming down...you better be
ready for it," and he'd say "Do you have anything in writing?" and they'd
say "No but we have all these rumors floating around." So, we basically were
operating on a "we hear these rumors" kind of basis from December until about
the first of May.
Then, in early May, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) set up a
meeting in Washington with the FAA and a number of industry groups to discuss the rumors
that were floating around, and see exactly what was going on here did the FAA have
something planned? At that meeting, we found out that without any discussions with
industry, or any notice, or any interaction with even the alphabet groups the FAA had
decided that they were no longer allowed to release the airman mailing list, and that they
were going to end it as of the end of May.
Who in the FAA was speaking for the Agency's decision in that meeting?
The people from the FAA that were there primarily were from the Office of the General
Counsel. I believe that the strongest advocate for this new position of the FAA was James
Whitlow, who I believe is Number Two in the Chief Counsel's office...
Deputy Chief Counsel?
Yes. He was certainly the one who was doing most of the talking for the FAA in regard
to it, although there were a number of other people from the FAA in the meeting
Nicholas Garaufis and Peggy Gilligan and there were also, interestingly enough, several
people from the Department Of Transportation...from their legal staff.
Martha, it was obvious from listening to you at the "Meet The Boss"
session at Oshkosh this year that you feel quite passionately about this issue. Tell me
why you think that releasing the list of pilot addresses to industry is important to the
The FAA has a mission that we as a company and individually believe in very strongly,
and that is improving aviation safety. They do a lot, but there is a lot more to be done.
The FAA has recognized (not only informally, but officially) that they don't have the
resources either manpower or money to do everything that they would like to do to
enhance aviation safety, and certainly that is available to be done.
Frankly, they have limited resources. It's a fact of government, particularly these
days, that the government has limited resources. So they have to pick and choose those
things they can do. They're working very had on some things in aviation safety, but
there's much more that can be accomplished only by a partnership between the FAA and
industry. As I said, they have recognized this officially, and they are calling strongly
on industry to participate in this partnership to increase and enhance aviation safety.
It is a partnership and a cooperation that as a company and personally John and I
are very interested in participating in. It's very painful when someone you know that is a
pilot goes out and hurts themselves or hurts their family or hurts their friends because
there was something that they were either never taught in the first place, or they learned
it but forgot it, or there's new information that has been discovered new techniques,
new procedures that they could have known and would have prevented the problem, but for
whatever reason they weren't exposed to it, didn't know about it, or perhaps were and
We feel kind of a personal relationship with the people that we have worked with as
students, whether in person or on videotape, and it's really painful to see these people
go out and hurt themselves. So we are very, very enthusiastic about participating to
enhance aviation safety. But it is something that the FAA has just made more difficult for
us to do by withholding the list of airmen's addresses, because it has made it much, much
more difficult for us to reach people with safety messages and training messages.
Yes, certainly there is some commercial activity going on at the same time, but this is
what a government-industry partnership is all about. Industry, in the process of providing
for its commercial needs, can also do a great deal of assistance to the FAA in their
primary mission of enhancing aviation safety.
For instance, our company King Schools, in the last ten years, has mailed out 700,000
free aviation training videos. They have focused on the problems that student pilots are
having learning to handle crosswinds. It's a small teaching segment, but I think very
valuable. The FAA has just made it so that we are no longer going to be able to reach
these people, communicate with them, give them this safety information, and make them
aware of may of the other resources that are available to them as far as improving their
training and improving their knowledge.
I know that many pilots are concerned about their mailing addresses being made
available by the FAA to aviation companies. Why should pilots care about having the list
made available to industry?
As I said, one of the things that companies in the aviation industry do is, in the
process of contacting a pilot with information about the company and their own products,
they also provide a considerable amount of information about new techniques and new
information that has been gained from research. Things are really happening right now in
regard to weather and available products to really understand what's happening and to be
able to know what's happening and have that information in the cockpit.
There are a number of companies whose products are focused on a very small segment of
the pilot population very important...extremely important...to that particular segment
but because the segment they're trying to reach is a relatively small segment of the
pilot population, they're not able to do the expensive magazine advertising and reach
people in other ways.
There are an enormous number of sources of information and improvement and safety
advice that have been available in the past that will not be available to pilots in the
future because of the withholding of the mailing list. So basically what's happening is
pilots are being deprived of a lot of the information that they have relied on to keep
themselves up-to-date, keep themselves advised of new trends, new techniques, new
products, new regulations.
The decision to withhold airman addresses affects not only commercial firms like
King Schools, but also non-profit organizations with a safety mission, correct?
Absolutely. This applies for everybody. The FAA themselves can still do mailings, but
even the non-profit companies that have strictly a safety message...it's not available to
On which segment of the pilot population will the FAA's decision to withhold airman
addresses have the most impact?
Mike, I think it's going to have the most impact on student pilots and new pilots.
Pilots that have been in the industry for awhile have a fairly good feel for where to go
for information. They're receiving some of the publications I've been talking about and
other sources of information.
But you know, a student pilot who is just getting started really has no idea where to
go for all of this. They get a great deal of helpful information in the mail directing
them to various places for products, services, publications, magazines...and they're going
to miss all this because their names will not be available to the industry...whether it's
for product information or safety mailings or anything of that sort.
At the meeting that you attended in Washington, the FAA indicated that their hands
were pretty well tied on this issue, and that it was simply a cut-and-dried legal issue.
Do you agree with that?
No I don't. I feel that it's a policy issue, not just a legal issue. Other agencies in
the government feel very strongly exactly the opposite of what the FAA does.
For instance, the Federal Communications Commission an agency that we also work with
feels very strongly that addresses of their amateur radio operators (their licensees)
needs to be available to the public it's in the public interest that it be so and
they take strong steps to make it available. As a matter of fact, they feel that they are
obligated in the interests of public safety to make that list available.
So if I understand correctly, you're saying that even though the FAA's position is
that under the law they have no choice but to withhold these addresses, another agency of
the Federal Government (the Federal Communications Commission) has taken the exact
That's exactly right, and that's why we feel that it's more of a policy issue than a
What address information does the FAA require airmen to provide, and what do they do
with that information?
You know, that's an interesting question, Mike.
It is very important that the FAA have available a current mailing address on all of
the licensees so they can reach them with safety information and notices and whatever
information they feel they need to send out to pilots on an official basis from the FAA.
So for years and years and years, what they wanted was a "permanent mailing
address." That could be a post office box...it could be anything as long as it was a
permanent mailing address for you where they could count on you getting any official
notices or safety information that they needed to send out.
An additional requirement that has come along relatively recently due to the "war
on drugs" is the requirement for the FAA to have a physical location where a pilot
can be located if the Drug Enforcement Administration or other people involved in the
"war on drugs" feel the need to physically contact a particular pilot. This, of
course, has set up a conflict in the FAA's recordkeeping in that all the FAA needs is a
mailing address to send notices to, but now other parts of the government are having the
FAA require a physical location of the person.
One of the ways to solve that conflict is to simply carry two different addresses in
the database: one a mailing address that would be available to industry and of course used
by the FAA whenever they did mailings, and a separate address available only to law
enforcement that would be used if there were issues regarding needing to physically locate
a particular pilot. The FAA is not keeping those two separate addresses at this time, and
this presents some complications for some people as far as the addresses going out to the
And so rather than change their system to maintain these two separate addresses
one which would be a mailing address available to anybody, and the other which would be a
physical address available only to law enforcement authorities the FAA's position is to
simply withhold everything?
This is correct. They have decided that the easiest way out is to simply not release
the mailing addresses (which obviously include some physical locations) to anyone.
Now, one of the problems with that is that the fact that the FAA is not releasing new
names and not releasing updates does not make the list just vanish. Part of what you end
up with, because the FAA is not releasing any updates, is the inability at this point for
an individual to change their address from, say, home to their work address or a post
office box or make any other changes of that sort. Because essentially, the FAA has not
made the database vanish, they have simply frozen it wherever it is now.
The FAA has had available for many years (they simply haven't publicized it) the
ability for an individual pilot to have their address marked as "do not release"
on the mailing list. So pilots have had the ability for years to not have their names
released if they chose to do so. But the FAA has not made it easy, and they have not
publicized it. And this is part of what has created the problem.
So pilots had the ability to specify that they did not want to receive mailings from
industry. It's just that very few pilots were aware that they had that option.
And I think also that very few pilots would really choose to opt out completely from
that, because they would no longer get any mailings for safety seminars, they would not
get any mailings on new product information, for airplanes they might fly...there's a lot
of things they would miss out on if they opted out of the mailings.
But certainly high-profile people or people with security concerns might not want
their home address to be made public.
Yes Mike, that's true, and you know it's interesting if you look at it, I think that
many of those high-profile people have already listed their business addresses anyway as
their mailing address.
The FAA seems to have made this decision in a very unusual way. Does it bother you
that they made this decision without consulting either industry or the airmen who are
affected by the decision?
It does because this decision significantly impacts the FAA's ability to do their
primary mission of aviation safety. So on the one hand, you have part of the FAA
interacting with industry and saying "we want to work together, your input and your
assistance is very important to reduce aviation accidents by a significant amount."
And on the other hand, you have the lawyers in the Chief Counsel's office saying that
they're going to cut off the means by which industry communicates with the pilots to
convey these messages...and doing it without any notice to the aviation community, the
industry companies, or to the individuals in it.
As I said, there was no contact with the industry and discussions of what alternatives
might be able to be worked out. I can understand that the FAA might have some computer and
programming issues involved in this, but there was no contact with industry to attempt to
find ways around it. Are there facilities in industry that would help them do this? Are
there ways to help expedite it? And there was no real notice given at all to the aviation
There's one other thing that I should mention to you, Mike, that bothers me about how
this was done...the cutting off of the mailing list. We talked in the "Meet the
Administrator" session at Sun 'n Fun earlier this year, which Administrator Garvey
was not at because of previous conflicts. One of the things that really surprised and
disturbed us greatly was that while the attorneys in the FAA from headquarters were quite
aware of the mailing list issue, none of the other people in the policymaking level in the
FAA seemed to have any awareness that this was underway, and they were quite surprised and
quite upset at finding it out in a public forum (the meeting at Sun 'n Fun). So it would
appear from looking at that that there was not a great deal of discussion within the
Agency in regard to this, either. Not only no discussion with industry, but very little
discussion within the Agency.
So if I understand what you're saying, would you characterize it that lawyers within
the FAA took the position that that it was purely a legal issue for them to decide, and
not an issue that either the policymaking people in the FAA, nor the airmen, nor the
industry should have any input on?
You know, Mike, you never know exactly what's going on unless you're there, but it
certainly had that appearance.
I understand, Martha, that this issue has attracted enough attention within Congress
that there is now language in the House version of the FAA reauthorization bill that would
compel the FAA to start releasing airman addresses once again after a 60-day period during
which all airmen would be notified of their ability to opt out. I assume from what you've
said that you would support such legislation?
Mike, I would support such legislation. You know, when you are a licensee you hold a
pilot's license from the FAA, or maybe you old an amateur radio license from the Federal
Communications Commission you have acquired quite a few privileges by doing that. You
also have certain responsibilities. You have responsibilities to other people in your same
industry (whether it be amateur radio or aviation), and you also have responsibilities to
the general public. This is why the Federal Communications Commission feels that it's so
important that licensees be available to the general public, because there is a public
safety interest here.
I feel the same about aviation licensees: that we all hold a responsibility to others
in aviation and also to the general public, and that the release of the list to industry
helps us all fulfill that obligation and that responsibility through better training,
better awareness, and also through the general public being able to assure themselves
that, for instance, the person who has just invited them to go up in an airplane really
does have the pilots license that they claim to have, and really is licensed to do what
they are intending to do in an airplane.
Martha, thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview. It's been
fascinating talking to you. We at AVweb are planning to stay right on top of this issue
until it gets resolved.
Well, Mike, I appreciate it very much. As you can see, I'm fairly passionate about it,
and that's because I feel like the people in the aviation community are friends and I want
them to do well and not to hurt themselves. To me, this is really an aviation safety
issue...and it's important to me because of that.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to talk about it.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Our best hope to get the FAA to reverse its
ill-conceived decision is if Congress passes the FAA reauthorization bill with language
that would compel the Agency to start releasing airman addresses once again after a 60-day
period during which all airmen would be notified of their ability to opt out. This
language is presently in the version of the bill passed by the House (H.R. 4057), but not
in the Senate version of the bill (S.2279). Whether or not the provision becomes law
depends on the outcome of the upcoming House/Senate conference. We suggest you contact the
following key Senate conferees without delay and urge them to adopt the House language
(H.R. 4057, Sec. 808):