Lawmaker Calls for FAA Boosterism

 - September 21, 2006, 11:50 AM

Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), whose district includes Wichita, used the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) annual industry review and market outlook briefing to tout his “Promotion Responsibility for Our U.S. Aviation Act of 2005” bill.

“It wasn’t long ago when it was in the charter of the FAA to be an advocate for the building of airplanes and for the aviation industry in general,” he said. But after the 1996 ValuJet crash in the Florida Everglades, amid charges that the FAA was too cozy with the aviation industry, Congress amended the charter.

“It became clear in the legislation that it was no longer to be an advocate for the industry,” said Tiahrt. “Instead it became an adversary and made it more difficult for us to get certification in a timely fashion.”

According to the congressman, his bill would put back in the FAA charter what the agency once had– the ability to be an advocate for air travel and the U.S. aviation industry, just as the Agriculture Department boosts farm products and the Commerce Department promotes trade and U.S. products.

“I believe it is imperative that the U.S. government is engaged in promoting an industry that has lost ground to government-subsidized companies throughout the world,” Tiahrt said when he introduced the bill, H.R.2787. “We cannot continue to force our companies to compete on an uneven playing field, and by promoting the aviation industry, the FAA can help maintain and create U.S. jobs.”

When he originally announced the bill last summer in Wichita, he was joined by Jim Schuster, chairman and CEO of Raytheon Aircraft; Jack Pelton, chairman, president and CEO of Cessna and chairman of GAMA; and Peter Edwards, then the president of Bombardier Business Aircraft.

While some critics of Tiahrt’s bill have expressed concerns about aviation safety, Pelton refuted those concerns. “Promoting a vibrant national aviation system is the surest of all ways for the U.S. Congress to enhance [the] safety of flight,” he responded.

From 1926 until 1996, the FAA or the agencies preceding it were charged with promoting the U.S. aviation industry. In 1996 Congress stripped the FAA of that responsibility because of concerns that the agency was becoming too close to the industry it was regulating. Tiahrt pointed out that the Agriculture Department and other federal agencies currently have dual responsibilities of promoting and regulating industries.

Tiahrt and Edwards both noted the FAA could help promote the aviation industry by addressing the current certification process. Tiahrt suggested the FAA should certify “processes rather than parts” and emphasized that selling safe aircraft is the top priority for aviation manufacturers.

“Aircraft companies know they will not be in business long if their aircraft are falling out of the sky,” he said. “They, more than anyone, have a vested interest in aircraft safety.”