FAA Head Marion Blakey Tells All

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Sport-Pilot Rule Still A Year Off...

It could be another year before the final rule on Light Sport Aircraft/Sport Pilot is complete, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey told a forum at EAA AirVenture yesterday, and the crowd grumbled in dismay. Blakey had drawn a standing ovation when she said she has signed off on the rule for the FAA, but when she added that implementation still may be a year away, the disappointment was both publicly expressed and privately shared among the attendees. The rule now must be scrutinized by the Department of Transportation and the Office of Management and Budget. Blakey said she's being conservative in her timeline estimate and it's possible the process will take six months or less -- but she doesn't want to raise any false hopes. (LSA has a legacy of false hopes, as year after year the final rule is said to be "coming soon," and years pass with more delays.) "I tend to be short on promises and long on deliverables," Blakey said. Light Sport Aircraft/Sport Pilot is an enormously complex initiative and one that is important both to the government and to the flying public, she said. "We see this as one of the most important developments in aviation in 40 years."

...TFRs Are Not Going Away...

Blakey also told the crowd that: TFRs are here to stay (so let's learn how not to bust them), the age-60 rule isn't going anywhere, there's nothing the FAA can do to change the fate of Meigs Field, and a new certificate (sporting an FAA logo hologram and other safety features) will be issued to all airmen as they achieve new ratings. Blakey reminded the crowd that the TSA and the Secret Service play a major role in creating security-related restrictions and the FAA is trying to get the word out to pilots as soon as possible when new restrictions are implemented. She said they've even used local media to broadcast warnings of new TFRs. Blakey said she welcomes suggestions on how to improve the notice process. "We're very game to do so," she said. Blakey also confirmed that more pop-up TFRs are likely as the 2004 election race swings into high gear. (A couple of weeks ago, a pipeline inspection pilot was forced to land by military aircraft after busting a presidential TFR in Philadelphia, and it's been suggested there was not enough notice of the restrictions.) EAA President Tom Poberezny noted it's also possible that TFRs will be put in place for other candidates besides the current president. Blakey said pilots have to adjust to the new environment. She said pilots continue to violate long-established TFRs that have been thoroughly publicized. "It's something we all need to look at as a shared responsibility," she said.

...And The Age-60 Rule Is Likely Staying

Blakey pretty much ended the hope of some airline pilots of staying in the cockpit beyond the age of 60, at least in the near future. "I think that's where it's [the retirement age] going to be for a while," she said.  Blakey said there is no evidence the current mandatory retirement age is inappropriate and, since there are now thousands of furloughed and laid-off pilots, it would be a tough political sell to change it. "I just don't see any momentum," she said. And while she offered sympathy, she said she couldn't do much to help those trying to get Meigs Field in Chicago reopened. "My heart absolutely sank," she said of her reaction to Mayor Richard Daley's surprise destruction of the Meigs runway on March 31. She said FAA staff tried to find a way to stop Daley but couldn't. "From a legal standpoint, there's nothing we can do," she said. But she told Friends of Meigs President Rachel Goodstein the agency will be on guard against threats to airports elsewhere. "Meigs was a bit of a wake-up call," she said. Goodstein said later she was disappointed with Blakey's response, which acknowleged that the aviation infrastructure system is at risk but offered no remedy. "Now that we're awake, what are we going to do?" Goodstein said.