Bizav left out of discussion of aviation’s future

 - September 23, 2010, 9:39 AM

If you’re a stickler for the truth, the DOT Future of Aviation Advisory Committee (FAAC) meeting that the FAA hosted in late August may have been more about what was missing than what actually took place. 

The purpose of the event was to discuss “some challenging issues related to the future of aviation in our country,” according to Great Lakes regional administrator Barry Cooper. Somehow the seven-hour meeting morphed into a session that was focused on the future of the airlines, not the entire aviation industry. Though the phrase “business aviation” was mentioned a few times during the session, the role business aviation will play in the coming years was all but ignored.

Confused by the mission disconnect, I checked the mandate of the DOT committee as posted on the department’s Web site:“The Aviation Advisory Committee will provide information, advice and recommendations to the Secretary of Transportation on ensuring the competitiveness of the U.S. aviation industry and its capability to address the evolving transportation needs, challenges and opportunities of the global economy.” The committee’s individual goals focused around the environment, industry competitiveness, aviation safety, system funding and the need for a solid workforce.

In attendance at the Chicago session was Juan Alonso from Stanford University; Susan Baer from the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey; JetBlue CEO David Barger; University of California-Berkeley professor Severin Boreinstein; Thella Bowens from San Diego Airport; John Conley from the Transport Workers Union; Cynthia Egnotovich from Goodrich; Pat Friend of the Association of Flight Attendants; John Porcari representing Secretary LaHood’s office; Susan Kurland from the Department of Transportation; UPS airline president Robert Lekites; William McGee of the Consumers Union; ALPA’s Ana McAhron-Schulz; Daniel McKenzie from Hudson Securities; Cessna Aircraft CEO Jack Pelton; Nicole Piasecki from Boeing; Nashville Airport’s Rual Regalado; UAL’s Glenn Tilton; and Christopher Williams from the Williams Capital Group.

There were no representatives from any general aviation airports or from any of the alphabet organizations that represent business or general aviation. No flight-focused universities were invited, so there was not a single discussion about the drowning flight training industry that represents a bedrock to all the other FAAC participants. Admittedly, the organizations in attendance represent the largest industry cash generators, but then why call the event the Future of Aviation when it was anything but?

A DOT spokesman told AIN, “We do not agree that the committee is focusing exclusively on airlines at the expense of other segments of the aviation industry, such as general aviation. While certain subcommittee reports at last week’s meeting were at times focused on airlines, such as the competition committee report, the meeting also involved extensive discussion of other sectors of the aviation industry.” Despite the DOT’s claims, all the industry insiders who spoke to AIN said they believe the heart of the FAAC to be more DOT PR than substance. 

The discussion at the Chicago FAAC would have been interesting to anyone new to the industry. It was puzzling, however, just how industry professionals at the levels of the participants had not been previously privy to the details outlined during the day, such as the NextGen presentation and how the workforce at FAA will need to change in the future to operate and maintain the complex new satellite-based ATC system. The discussion about how the FAA is funded was eye-opening but hardly headline making, as were discussions about aviation safety delivered by Continental Airlines v-p of safety Don Gunther. 

The Competitiveness Committee delivered its report at the Chicago FAAC. United CEO Glenn Tilton and University of California professor Severin Boreinstein tangled over the professor’s questions about the Competitiveness Committee’s credibility–the United Airlines-funded report was researched by consultants whom Boreinstein linked to the airline–and the fact that only a few on the committee had the opportunity to review the report before the Chicago session. Tilton also mentioned more than once that the committee was focused on maintaining a healthy, competitive airline industry. 

“This [committee’s] report presents United’s view of the world and used up more than 40 minutes of the one-hour time slot for this committee,” Boreinstein said. Making no attempt to hide his annoyance with Tilton for apparently ignoring earlier requests for information, he added, “The report is not really neutral but does present UAL’s view of competition quite effectively. I always said that if you could bring all the stakeholders together and really reach agreement on something it might be worth it. But a presentation funded by United is not the way to reach consensus.” 

The DOT spokesman addressed the apparent absence of rainmakers not connected to the airline industry but did not explain the differences between the all-inclusive mission statement on the DOT Web site and the more myopic airline focused discussions in Chicago. “It’s important to remember that this process is a long one, and not just a snapshot of any particular day. Discussions are ongoing at both the full committee and subcommittee levels. The general aviation community is an important part of this process, and we will continue to welcome its participation and insight.”

The only pure general/business aviation proponent in the room was Cessna CEO Jack Pelton, who heads the FAAC Finance Committee. Perhaps it’s better to at least hold a single seat at the table and be ready to take part in the discussion as Pelton was, even if he was outnumbered by other segments of the industry. The final insult? None of the proceedings at the FAAC were deemed important enough to appear on the DOT Secretary’s blog at “The Fast Lane.”