Brown brings Washington experience to NBAA post

 - January 29, 2007, 6:04 AM

Steve Brown took over as NBAA senior vice president of operations three months ago, but he is an old hand on the Washington scene. Before accepting the NBAA post, he served as a senior vice president of AOPA, president of the National Aeronautic Association, and most recently as FAA associate administrator for air traffic services and then vice president of operations planning in the FAA’s new Air Traffic Organization (ATO).

A 3,500-hour pilot, he has also worked as an air-taxi pilot and full-time flight instructor and is a qualified aviation accident investigator. His wife, Cyndy, is a longtime pilot and flight instructor. So it could be said that the learning curve for his new job is considerably flatter than it might otherwise have been.

Brown believes that service to the NBAA membership helps improve both the safety and economic efficiency of their operations, and one of his objectives is to ensure access to the air transportation system.

“The key impediments to access these days are either local airport restrictions, air-traffic or airspace restrictions or potential security-oriented restrictions,” said Brown. “So the ops group is working on all of those access challenges to make sure that our members have the best access possible to both the National Airspace System and the national airport infrastructure.”

Another focus is safety, especially in light of several recent high-profile business jet accidents and the negative publicity they generated in the mass media. “While access is critical, to a certain extent if you’re not perceived as operating safely and you are, in fact, not operating safely, then that’s a bigger issue,” he said. “We need to redouble our focus on operating safety and make sure we maintain our standards at a very high level.”

Asked how the recent crashes might have affected the public’s view of business aviation, Brown replied, “The public perception of the safety of business aviation, I think, is a continual challenge we face, because the vast majority of the public knows only about the airlines and a few dozen airports, for the most part the ones where the airlines fly. The scale of what we do is largely unknown to the public.”

As result, he said, NBAA, AOPA and the Helicopter Association International, and everyone else in general aviation, are engaged perpetually in making certain that the GA segment of the industry operates ever more safely and that the public has a better understanding of the types of GA operations.

“I think it’s a task that will always be before us since largely what we do is fly from relatively small airports to relatively small airports where there is lots of capacity, and we kind of connect the dots in America,” said Brown. “And we don’t fly along the clogged airways between Chicago and New York, for the most part.”

He also said, NBAA wants to enhance professional standards and professional development for corporate aircraft management, maintenance training and scheduling and dispatch. “Setting those standards for both domestic and international aviation is something we want to continue to do and something that the members have asked us to continue to expand,” he said.

Streamlining Flight Operations
Brown said another area of focus is the regulatory interface with the government concerning flight operations. “Whether it has to do with regulations for flight operations, aircraft maintenance, the whole range of dispatch requirements, air traffic control, all that regulatory interface–including security with the Department of Homeland Security or TSA–are areas that the operations staff is working on as well,” he explained.

In advance of formal rulemaking, NBAA has representation on the committees, the RTCA and/or the Aviation Rulemaking Committee, which helps the FAA develop rulemaking packages. When it goes into the formal stage of an actual notice of proposed rulemaking, NBAA works with its members and its committees to comment on those formal notices to influence the outcome.

As a recent alum of the FAA’s new ATO, Brown was asked whether that organization is meeting the mandate that Congress gave it when it was legislated as a performance-based organization that should stand on its own.

“Yes, I hope so,” he responded. “They are working hard at creating a performance-based organization. We’re now 18 months into it…and during that first year that I was still with the ATO, there was a lot of focus on making sure that the FAA could better understand the cost of providing its service.”

He said there was a lot of focus on understanding user needs so the agency could meet them in a better and more efficient way. A lot of attention was being placed on how to attract the large investment necessary to modernize the system in the years to come.

“Of all those challenges, I think probably the biggest one that faces the FAA and the ATO is developing a consensus among all of the stakeholders about how to modernize the system in the future,” Brown said. “There is probably a shortage of capital, both in the government and on the part of the airspace users. The airlines don’t have deep pockets right now, the military budget is stretched and general aviation, broadly speaking, doesn’t have deep pockets because it comes out of the pocket of the individual aircraft owner, be that a corporation or a person. And of course the government is running a national budget deficit.”

From a pragmatic standpoint, he said, the money available to modernize the system is limited, so the focus should be on making procedural enhancements that are low-cost but effective at increasing capacity in the system.

“I often refer to it as a need for everybody to pragmatically focus on pounding out the singles–to use a baseball analogy–rather than getting up and swinging for the fence,” he explained. “I think in a time when capital is in short supply and there are a lot of simple things that can be done, we ought to focus on doing those.”

Parallel offset routes, which can take suitably equipped aircraft off the crowded Victor airways, are a good example. “You can make a procedural enhancement that is already installed on certain airplanes and derive a benefit at a relatively modest cost compared with many other alternatives that might be considered for developing capacity,” he said.

Internationally, NBAA and the rest of the GA industry still have a lot of work to do. “The fundamental challenge that we face is that the U.S.’s view of international operations and the procedures, the standards and the regulations that should support and guide those operations has been a view that is much more pragmatic and flexible than what exists in the rest of the world,” Brown asserted. “That carries through even to some of the security issues in terms of the differences between the U.S. view and the EU– broadly the European view.”

NBAA wants to point out the benefits of having a sound regulatory approach and solid standards that have a good safety record, said Brown, and not adopt the overbearing posture that a highly commercial regulatory structure would bring.

“I think the North American safety record speaks for itself,” Brown declared. “When you take a look at our safety record, which is very good, and our regulatory posture, which is modest and not overbearing, I think it’s a good example to the rest of the world that these two can go hand-in-hand. It is not necessary to have a burdensome regulatory structure to generate the best safety performance.”

Brown said NBAA’s board of directors is interested in trying to make sure that U.S. operators lead the dialogue and debate on setting international standards, whether that is through the International Civil Aviation Organization or other nations on a multilateral basis.

“An airplane has no need to recognize borders; it just needs to be operated safely and efficiently,” said Brown. “So there’s a lot of focus on making sure that we do that and that borders are as transparent as they can be. Ultimately, having that commonality reinforces safety and predictability in the system.”