Marion Blakey's Remarks at AOPA Expo 2002

  • E-Mail this Article
  • View Printable Article
  • Text size:

    • A
    • A
    • A

Remarks Prepared for Delivery
Marion C. Blakey
Federal Aviation Administration
"Between Two Imperatives"
Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association
Palm Springs, California
October 24, 2002

I appreciate this opportunity to build a new relationship with AOPA and the general aviation community. In fact, it's good to have any excuse to come to Palm Springs.

I guess I should start on a humorous note -- just seems right in a town where they name major thoroughfares after comedians. I don't know if any of you happen to go online to read The Onion. This is a webzine that is put out by jokesters who run made-up stories that, for all their wackiness, have a ring of authenticity about them. One such story ran last week. It was posted under the headline, "FAA Considering Passenger Ban."

The Onion quoted me to the effect that, "Frankly, we've tried everything else. We've put up more detectors, searched carry-on luggage, and prohibited passengers from traveling with sharp objects. Yet passengers still somehow continue to find ways to breach security. Clearly, the passengers have to go ..."

Well, let me say that as FAA Administrator, I am not quite ready to go to such lengths. The Onion is right about one thing: We could have perfectly safe air transportation, but only at the expense of keeping passengers and pilots on the ground. In other words, perfect safety would mean a sky full of drones.

We can joke about this, but we cannot ignore the underlying reality that aviation, as we have known it has changed. September 11 made a difference in how we fly and in how people perceive aviation. Fortunately, AOPA recognized this and moved with alacrity to educate the American people. Your advertising and world-class web site remind us of the critical importance of general aviation, not just to the 145 million people who fly on small planes every year, but what it means --

To thousands of sick and injured children and adults, often people living far from quality health care,

To families worried about a lost hiker, or an elderly person who has wandered off,

To Western communities that rely on smoke jumpers to keep a fire at bay,

To every farmer who relies on GA to boost farm yields by 50 percent,

To every small business reliant on overnight deliveries.

And to America itself.

Not only is general aviation as homegrown as Wilbur and Orville Wright. It is also a vital 21st century industry, one that employs 1.3 million Americans, generates about 1 percent of the total wealth of this country, and produces technology that keeps America at the leading edge.

Just last week, I was in Wichita to meet with the manufacturers of many of the planes that you fly. I saw state-of-the-art manufacturing processes, where computers are revolutionizing avionics, propulsion and airframe design.

I saw firsthand how critical general aviation is to the American future. And I've come to appreciate its importance for one more reason -- the basic American freedom to fly is essential to the American character.

Lane Wallace, columnist for Flying Magazine, gives us a sense of what this means when she writes about her flight across America in her Cheetah around the Fourth of July. She describes what it is like to pass over the snow-covered slopes of Mount Shasta, the "cavernous hollow" of Crater Lake, the arresting beauty of the lava fields east of Boise, then the granite faces of the presidents at Mount Rushmore, and the enormous, unfinished carving of Chief Crazy Horse.

The most interesting part of her journey was the advice she received from a local pilot. If you want to fly at low altitude over Montana, she was told, it's best not to follow the highways. No, the best way is to follow the Lewis and Clark trail. So pilots are still tracing a route a Native American woman named Sacajawea revealed to President Jefferson's agents almost two hundred years ago.

When I read that, I was touched. There's something in Lane Wallace's journey that seems to complete the American experience -- and that shows that the freedom to fly expresses a basic American need to explore.

So we enter the 21st century caught between two imperatives.

One is the imperative of national security. Jane Garvey developed a strong relationship with AOPA. And like a true friend, she gave you the straight story the last time she spoke to an AOPA Expo. She said, "General aviation provides the least-managed and potentially largest fleet of weapons in the United States."

At the same time, I know she would agree that we face another imperative. We must recognize that beyond the immediate targets of death and destruction the ultimate goal of terrorism is not just to kill us but to degrade our economic vitality and personal freedoms.

We cannot let terrorists convert aviation into a means for mass murder. But we also cannot let them make us grounded prisoners in our own country.

How can we balance the twin risks of under-reaction and over-reaction? As a new administrator it would violate everything I know about safety procedures to rattle off a list of new initiatives without first vetting them. I can tell you that Phil and I have discussed the issues of burning importance to general aviation. And I can give you some preliminary thoughts.

Let me begin with one of the big picture changes in Washington -- the role of the Transportation Security Administration and the FAA. Many of you may be understandably confused about who does what, and how we intend to coordinate our work.

This I can explain.

Under the new law, the FAA remains the nation's manager of the National Airspace System. We still retain some security responsibilities such as certifying the design and overseeing the implementation of reinforced cockpit doors and flight crew training.

The creation of the TSA, however, reflects our era's new sense of realism. The FAA is simply not in a position to evaluate all national security threats, or to set national security policy. Security is properly the business of TSA, working with other intelligence, defense and national security agencies. The FAA remains in that loop with a strong policy voice and as the implementer and enforcer of many TSA policies.

Such a system is necessarily complex. It might even be bureaucratically cumbersome were it not for one thing -- and that is the wartime sense of responsibility among all players. Our work comes together through a lot of coordination at all levels and through a Joint Security Operations Center, staffed by both FAA and TSA specialists, 24/7. We are determined to work together to protect the nation's transportation benefits.

Though we work side-by-side, our agencies are staying clear on our different missions. We at FAA know it is our role to be an advocate for commerce and the economic benefits of aviation. And we will fulfill that role. We will never overlook an opportunity to remind our colleagues in the security agencies of the importance of general aviation. At the same time, when it comes to handling security issues, you must be your own best advocates -- just as the GA coalition was in your meeting last week with the TSA.

Of course, the biggest issues for the GA community are practical, not administrative. I am well aware that one of the biggest concerns you have as individual pilots comes down to that little three-letter acronym -- TFR.

I am sure you read in the papers about CIA Director George Tenet's warning about a disturbing pattern of heightened activity among terrorists. Many restrictions will have to remain in place as long as we are in our current situation. That's just a matter of common sense. You can't fly over Crawford, Texas, or downtown Washington, D.C., without expecting a companion at your wingtips, and they'll want to talk to you on the ground. This is wartime, and national security cannot and will not be compromised.

But we also have to be sensible. Just two weeks ago, in a meeting with Secretary Mineta, as we worked through the issues posed by new and continuing terrorist threats, he stressed that we have to balance vigilance with reasonableness. We are not going to expand TFRs on a widespread, ongoing basis where the threat is non-specific.

Along these lines, let me say I deeply appreciate the way in which AOPA has quickly put together educational programs to keep pilots informed of changes. There are similar efforts our part, from quick notification to flight service stations, to the Internet, and even direct mail to pilots.

With this in mind, I'd like you to know that in every job I've held, I have insisted on operations that are consistent and predictable. You have every reason to expect consistent answers from flight service specialists on TFRs. You need good information -- and you're going to get it.

Good information is important, because something as complex as our National Airspace System only works when we all understand what is expected of us. Pilots are also understandably concerned about the need for graphical depictions of TFR locations.

You need a good picture. I am here to tell you that you're about to get it.

The AOPA has stepped in, offering a graphical depiction of TFRs. But we need to be involved -- closely involved. That's why we've partnered with Jeppesen to create an electronic graphical depiction of TFRs superimposed over aeronautical charts. They're in a format clear and familiar to pilots. And, they're down-to-the-inch accurate. Right now, we're deploying this capability to our flight service stations. We plan to have it available to AOPA and the public early next year.

Sharing information on the NAS is just one way we are working together. We're also making the most of your advice. One example is your forward-thinking proposal to make a driver's license valid for the security needs of general aviation.

The Secretary of Transportation and the FAA agreed that this was a practical and cost-effective interim step. And I am pleased to announce that on Tuesday the Office of Management and Budget concurred with our position and gave us the green light.

The use of a driver's license or any government-issued photo I.D. is an AOPA idea that will soon become a national reality.

There are some realities, however, that we should work together to prevent. I am thinking of unnecessary airport closings.

In your ad campaign, AOPA is putting out the message that, "A mile of highway gets you one mile, a mile of runway gets you anywhere." With all the necessary restrictions in the air, the last thing we need are unnecessary constraints on the ground. The FAA has been very aggressive in holding local airport authorities to their grant agreements. At the first public mention of a new closure or unwarranted restriction on approach speed or noise abatement, the FAA will review the situation and remind local officials of their obligations.

The law bans discrimination against any category of operator at airports accepting federal funds -- and we are determined to stand by it.

There are other issues we can cover in Q & A. Let me close by saying that if you know anything about me, it is that I come to this job with a strong safety portfolio. And you can expect me to be consistent with that.

At the same time, we are going to be balanced and reasonable. And we understand that our job exists to extend the reach of our fellow Americans, whether by commercial aviation, or by visual flight rules out in the clear blue sky.

I believe in the mission of general aviation and the role it plays in this country's unfolding potential. Aviation writers like James Fallows are looking forward to a future when Americans can vector into the skies as easily as we hop into a car and drive. The manufacturers I visited in Wichita are developing ingenious new technologies that are already revolutionizing general aviation.

For all the trepidation stirred by recent events, aviation enthusiasts are idealistic about what air travel means to humanity. Fliers have always been optimists who see past the dangers. As aviation nears its second century, we have the faith that air travel is a blessing that will ultimately extend the greatness of this country.

Thank you, and now I'd like to take your questions.