First job for FAA’s new chief? Stop the bickering


The Obama administration is set to nominate Randy Babbitt, a prominent aviation consultant and former head of the largest U.S. commercial-pilot union, as the next head of the Federal Aviation Administration. It’s about time.

In the whirlwind of Washington programs these days, the appointment of a new director of the FAA is more and more important. Without a leader, the nation’s move toward a new air traffic control system, mired in organization bickering, is going nowhere.

Airline consumers are losing time and facing higher ticket prices. And taxpayers are seeing precious budget resources wasted as the FAA, airlines and air traffic controllers fight among themselves rather than take positive steps towards a new system.

The Joint Economic Committee estimates air travel delays impose $41 billion annually in costs on the U.S. economy. In the 12-month period ending September 2008, 138 million system delay minutes drove an estimated $10 billion in direct operating costs for scheduled U.S. passenger airlines and cost airline passengers an estimated $4.5 billion in lost wages and productivity. These figures do not capture the costs of extra gates and ground personnel to passenger airlines or the direct costs incurred by cargo airlines and their customers.

The costs of bureaucratic inaction are, and continue to be, staggering to the everyday flier. These costs are translated into higher ticket prices, lost time sitting on tarmacs, lost time due to air traffic delays, missed airline and baggage connections, ruined vacations, crying babies, tearful grandparents missing family reunions and for many the need to plan an additional full day of travel on both ends of vacations because of flight schedule uncertainties.

While the hearings in Washington are full of acronyms such as ATA, NACTA, ATOP, DSR, VSCS, URET, DRVSM, STARS, ERAM, TRACON, ZMA and ADS-B, the lack of action over the past decade has conservatively cost taxpayers and corporations more than $150 billion — not to mention the additional costs to everyday products caused by these air traffic inefficiencies.

In terms of the new air traffic control program, the new FAA administrator will have three main jobs:

1. Stop the bickering between the his agency and the air traffic controllers. Get a new contract in place.

2. Bring the airlines, controllers and his staff together to form a unified blueprint and provide reasonable timelines for implementation of the new system.

3. Keep the current ATC system functioning and improving as the new system is readied.

Now, hopefully, the nation can get moving.