Welcome to the Minefield: Michael Huerta Confirmed as FAA Administrator
The fiscal cliff compromise notwithstanding, it appears that the 2013 edition of our highest legislative body once again will be strongly divided along partisan lines both old and new.
So it comes as a nice surprise to learn not only that there is something our legislature can agree upon but that it has to do with aviation. Earlier this week the Senate confirmed Michael Huerta as FAA administrator, giving the former number two guy at the agency a five-year term.
Huerta served as acting administrator for the past year, after former FAA boss Randy Babbitt resigned after what proved to be a dubious drunk driving arrest. Charges were dropped but too late for Babbitt.
While Babbitt is an aviation guy through and through, Huerta is a career administrator — one can argue about which background better fits an FAA administrator. And over the past year the interim head proved himself a deft politician, managing somehow to convince groups with far ranging and often competing agendas that he would look out for their interests.
When it comes to GA, this has been the case. On the global front, he gets the importance of making NextGen work, of learning to get along with foreign aviation regulatory bodies, of promoting more sensible certification standards and of shepherding the age of drones in safely and sensibly, all critical responsibilities for the United States in this brave new world of aviation and technology.
It goes without saying that articulating these goals and accomplishing them are two very different things. The next five years, if he stays that long, will surely test the man’s mettle with just these issues — and there are dozens more we could name, not to mention the new battles and challenges that surely will emerge over the next few years.
As far as GA is concerned, we’re optimistic that Huerta will understand our needs and be as staunch an advocate for us as he can be. He has already exhibited the courage to just say “no” to Congress when he postponed the selection of test sites for drones last year due to scheduling and safety concerns. It was a good sign.
Huerta has, like his former boss, put the onus on light airplane pilots to raise the level of our game and improve the safety record for light GA. He understands that the continued health and survival of our segment is inextricably linked to our ability to dramatically improve that record, something he rightly recognizes is at least in great part an issue of personal responsibility on the part of us pilots.
At the same time, he seems to get that light GA is a crucial part of the fabric of our national identity. The job of the FAA has by statute always been not only to regulate general aviation but to promote it too. If we can see proof early on that Mr. Huerta understands that latter mandate, it will indeed be a happy day.