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Michael Huerta Confirmed by the U.S. Senate as FAA Administrator

Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. Senate is capable of getting something done.  Today, on New Year’s Day nonetheless, they confirmed Michael Huerta as FAA Administrator.  Huerta has been serving as the acting administrator since Dec. 2011, and previously served as deputy Administrator starting in June 2010.

Huerta was originally nominated to become the FAA administrator by President Obama in March 2012, but had to wait nine months for his confirmation to go through.  I am sure this was no surprise to Mr. Huerta as he had to wait over five months to be confirmed as deputy Administrator.

This confirmation, which carries a term of five years, will provide some much-needed stability for the FAA in tandem with the FAA reauthorization which was signed by President Obama last February.  Based on his success in his previous roles there is great reason for optimism.

His first real claim to fame was as a managing director for the 2002 Olympics overseeing the transportation outlets for the Games.  Having lived through the transportation mess that existed before the Olympics, and enjoyed the improvements afterward, I can personally attest to the success of his efforts.

His confirmation is already being applauded by aviation organizations such as GAMA.

January 1, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Could the Boeing 787 Dreamliner be the New Air Force One?

Air Force One.

There is probably not a more recognized plane in the whole world than the one that carries around the President of the United States.  It has been photographed more than any other plane in the world, it was the centerpiece of a major movie starring Harrison Ford, and it is getting pretty old and worn out.

Just to be totally accurate, Air Force One is technically the callsign of any Air Force aircraft that is carrying the President, just as Marine One is a Marine aircraft carrying the President.  Multiple aircraft have carried the title of Air Force One over the years, but it is currently associated with two Boeing VC-25As which are highly customized 747-200Bs.

The first VC-25A was delivered in 1990 which means that these aircraft are coming up on a quarter century of flight around the world.  While that is not exceptionally old by some standards, this platform is getting old as most airlines have retired these older models of the 747 which means that maintenance costs continue to rise as parts become less common.

So what aircraft is going to replace this iconic platform?

The Air Force put out a request for a replacement back in January of 2009 to have a new plane in service by 2017.  A couple of weeks later, EADS(Airbus) took themselves out of the running leaving Boeing as the sole bidder, with the 747-8 and the 787 Dreamliner as the proposed offerings.

President Obama tours the 787 production line with Jim McNerney, Chairman, President & CEO of The Boeing Company (right) and Jim Albaugh, President & CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Photo by Marian Lockhart.

Interestingly, President Obama toured the facility in Washington where the 787 Dreamliner is assembled.  I don’t think that is necessarily an indication of an impending decision as much as a political move of some sort, but it certainly gets the wheels turning.

The 787 Dreamliner is arguably the most innovative aircraft in the world right now.  Its carbon fiber construction, and high-tech roots make it incredibly suited to all types of applications.  One of the biggest appeals is the fuel-efficiency and eco-friendly buzz words that make so many people swoon these days.

From everything that we can tell the Dreamliner is a great aircraft that is living up to the hype, but it is hard to know how good a plane really is until it has some real-time in service.  That being said, I can think of a couple of reasons that this would be a very appealing choice for the most powerful office in the world.

As I already mentioned, being able to use those great buzz words of fuel-efficient and eco-friendly are just the type of thing that a president who is so worried about his image on the international stage would eat up.  America has a terrible reputation when it comes to fossil fuel emissions and replacing the biggest fuel burner in the US government would definitely help that image.

Being in an election year where the economy is far and away the number one issue, picking the Dreamliner would be a great move from a political standpoint.  The purchase itself wouldn’t mean a lot since it is only for three planes, but it could make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things.

I’m sure Boeing would love to have their new baby shown off to the whole world every time the President gets on and off his plane.  How many airlines would at the very least take a more serious look at the Dreamliner if the President of the United States called it his personal jet?

It is one thing to go and tour the plant and say that it is a great airframe, and all of the factory workers are doing a great job, but it is quite another to pick that plane to replace the most photographed, highly recognizable plane in the world.  Like so many other companies across the country, Boeing can use all of the help they can get.

 

February 21, 2012 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

User Fee Debate Overshadows FAA Reauthorization Bill

It is amazing how something so good can happen at the same time as something so dumb.  On Tuesday, President Obama signed into law the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 which provides four years and $63.4-billion in funding for the FAA.  This follows 23 short-term funding bills over the past five years.

All of the experts applauded this action as it provides a certain amount of stability for an organization that has been in limbo for half of a decade.  Most people overlook the fact that the lack of funding for the FAA has also meant a lack of funding for a lot of very important airport development projects.

The irony of the situation is that just the day before, on Monday, President Obama released a budget that included user fees of  $100 per flight as well as increasing the passenger security fee from as low as $2.50 to as high as $7.50 over the next 6 years.  This increase could cause very serious issues for an industry that is still struggling in a variety of ways.

It is amazing to me that you could do something so detrimental the day before doing something so valuable.

The first concern is obviously money.  Aviation companies, both commercial and business, are struggling to make ends meet in any way that they can.  Commercial airlines will not be affected quite as much since they will simply pass the fee on to the passengers which they won’t really notice either since the $100 per flight will spread out to less than a dollar for most flights.

The security fee will be worse, but again, airlines will pass it along to the passengers, and with the high price of tickets most people will simply write it off.  But I know that I for one am tired of paying more and more for plane tickets.

Bigger business aviation companies will also not feel the pinch nearly as much since $100 really isn’t that big of a deal when you are dropping tens of thousands of dollars on fuel for every trip.  The real pain will be felt by the little guys who have less of an impact on fuel purchases, but who are responsible for a much larger portion of the total flights.

These smaller jets routinely purchase only a few hundred dollars worth of fuel because that is all they need.  They also fight tooth and nail to not pay landing fees at FBO’s because even $50 more for each flight makes a huge difference to their bottom line.  Having worked at an FBO I have seen how hard these guys fight for every dollar, because they have to.

Now they are proposing that these users pay an additional $100 for each and every flight, if they fly in controlled airspace.  Talk about a gray area.  Even people who teach aviation have a tough time defining what exactly controlled airspace is.

Does that mean that every little single-engine prop is going to have to come up with an extra $100 for every flight when they are only spending $50 on fuel?  But this becomes a much bigger issue than just money.

If the choice is between paying $100 and simply flying VFR instead of IFR, then what choice are most of these little guys going to make?  A lot of them are flying short legs anyways, so how hard is it to just fly VFR?  The vast majority of passengers won’t even realize that their safety is at risk as opposed to being under the control of air traffic controllers.

They use the excuse that aviation needs to pay for its own security, which in principle I don’t have any problem with.  The problem that I have is that the government continues to impose new rules and regulations and then expecting users to just eat the costs.  In reality, how much safer are we now than we used to be?

My own personal feelings about TSA will have to wait for another day, but the point is that the government once again feels that throwing money at a problem will be a solution despite all of the evidence to the contrary.  Look at most government-funded programs and you will see that money is generally not the real issue.

So, while I am ecstatic that the FAA is now funded for a period that will allow some serious work to take place on NextGen ATC, and a bunch of other badly needed development, I hate to see that the government is asking for even more of a sacrifice from an industry that is already struggling.  Pretty much every sector is struggling, and they all need to make changes and pull their own weight, but the changes to these fees simply is not the answer.

February 16, 2012 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.