Last week Congressman Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), newly appointed chairman of the Aviation Subcommittee of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, held a round-table session in Washington, D.C., with some of the major aviation trade associations.
Topics raised by the association CEOs ranged from NextGen to user fees, but Paula Derks, president of the Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA), raised an issue that is increasingly becoming a problem for the industry: the absence of FAA personnel at the industry’s technical seminars. The problem stems in part from restrictions on government employees accepting gifts and in part from shrinking budgets that can no longer cover the expense of FAA inspectors being away from work to attend.
Derks emphasized to LoBiondo how important it is for FAA personnel to keep up-to-date on technology by attending technical seminars. She explained that the AEA provides low-cost training to its members and offers those training opportunities to the national aviation authorities as well. “The AEA does not want government bureaucracy to be an impediment to learning,” she said, seeking assurance from chairman LoBiondo that appropriate fiscal management will not impede regulatory agencies’ ability to participate in training opportunities.
“When we host technical meetings for our members,” Derks told AIN, “we feel it’s so important that we offer complimentary registrations to avionics safety inspectors. If these ASIs are going to be approving the installation of the new technologies, they need to be trained on the new technology. Yet they often can’t get approval to attend the training due to various reasons such as budget restrictions. The ASIs themselves recognize the importance of attending, and some end up taking vacation time and paying out of their own pocket to attend.”
Derks explained that providing an ASI with a free pass to a technical conference doesn’t constitute giving a gift. The problem arises if an organization, such as the AEA, offers hotel accommodation, meals or gifts.