Pilot is first to fill new ATC position

 - July 28, 2008, 10:35 AM

American Airlines Capt. Russell Chew, managing director of systems operations control for the carrier, has been chosen to be the chief operating officer (COO) of the long-gestating Air Traffic Organization (ATO) within the FAA.

Although the concept of an ATO was spelled out in the AIR-21 legislation Congress passed in 2000, it remains unclear exactly how it will work. Initially, Chew will report directly to FAA Administrator Marion Blakey.

As COO, he will be charged with overseeing the operational and financial performance of the ATC system and its research and development programs. He will also be expected to set up the ATO as a performance-based organization (PBO), more along the lines of a business with specified performance goals and accountability. Chew is scheduled to start work on August 1.

Shortly before he left office, then-President Clinton issued an executive order directing that the ATO be created as a PBO to be overseen by a committee of business and labor leaders who would function as a board of directors. This murkiness in organizational structure and a salary considered woefully inadequate–running the ATO has been likened to operating a multibillion-dollar company–hindered efforts by former FAA Administrator Jane Garvey, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and now Blakey to recruit a qualified person for the job.

Throughout a series of increasingly responsible positions with American, Chew has maintained his currency as a line captain, qualified to fly the 757, 767, 727, DC-10 and MD-80. In addition, he has often served as an industry spokesman and is well known on Capitol Hill and throughout the aviation industry.

Chew has been active in ATC modernization issues and is currently vice chairman of the RTCA’s Free Flight Steering Committee. He also serves on the Arinc board of directors and is chairman of ATN Systems. He attended Stanford University for his undergraduate studies and completed his doctoral studies at the University of Southern California.

Both NBAA and AOPA endorsed Chew’s appointment. “Russ will be a tremendous asset to the FAA in his new position as COO,” said NBAA past-president Jack Olcott. “He is eminently qualified based on his airline background and knows business aviation through his leadership at RTCA.”

“Russ and I have sat side-by-side for the better part of a decade as part of Mitre’s aviation advisory committee, the [FAA] Operational Evolution Plan, the RTCA policy board and steering committees and a host of other industry endeavors,” said AOPA president Phil Boyer. “He has always been quick to understand the importance of not only more runway capacity at this country’s hub airports, but also the high value of our general aviation reliever airports.”

Chew signed on as an American Airlines pilot in 1984. Before becoming managing director of systems operations control–where he has been responsible for directing the airline’s day-to-day operations at American’s central control center–he was managing director of the airline’s strategic operations planning and manager of technical flight operations and systems support technologies.

The concept of FAA air traffic services operated as a PBO and run by a COO traces back to the National Civil Aviation Review Commission, which Mineta chaired when he was in the private sector in 1997.

“Establishing the COO position is an important step forward in managing an ATC system that is not only the safest, but is also a model of efficiency and effectiveness,” said Mineta. “Taxpayers rightly expect results and accountability in operating our nation’s transportation infrastructure, and I am confident Russ is the right person to help accomplish this in aviation.”