As a veteran of the airline industry, I have had the opportunity to work with and for many leaders of industry, both in the public and private sectors. Seldom have I seen the professionalism continuously demonstrated by Captain Randy Babbitt, who is reportedly the leading candidate to head the Federal Aviation Administration. As a pilot for the once-proud Eastern Airlines whose legacy ran from WWI Ace Eddie Rickenbacker through Astronaut Frank Borman to the dismal failure of corporate raider Frank Lorenzo, Randy’s tenure as President of the Air Line Pilots Association was the epitome of a career professional. Always a fair and impartial honest broker, he faced difficult days within the industry through positive constructive dialogue. Randy fully understands the fragility of the air transport industry and its place in our national critical infrastructure.
The FAA’s principal mandate is safety by emphasizing professionalism, leadership, and responsibility, FAA requirements have taught a generation of mostly ex-military pilots how to build the safest transportation system in history. The 21st century brings new safety and security paradigms, along with a new generation of pilots who have grown up in the computer age. The challenges faced by my generation involved automated electronic checklists and GPS navigation. For most of our careers, hijacking meant a diversion to Cuba and a late arrival home. Today, the industry is piloted by a generation that is prepared to not only safely fly the airliner but to defend it with deadly force when the need arises. Yet it will be important not to lose sight of the basics. In the recent incident on the Hudson River, US Air Capt Sully demonstrated that when all the high tech goodies fail (and they will), it all comes down the power of the human mind to meet the challenges of a deteriorating mechanical situation.
Even as our nation is in peril on the economic front, the airline industry is facing onerous unfunded mandates and government taxes that could be crippling. With more jobs disappearing and more businesses failing, this critical industry needs leadership that is well-grounded in understanding the operations and policies that will enable a robust enterprise. The air traffic control system, also a legacy of a past generation, is in critical need of renewal. Hopefully, the stimulus plan will move this process along. Alternative fuels are the future and will eventually take us beyond petroleum. These and many challenges are on the table at FAA.
And just as in flying, there will also be a few surprises that were completely unplanned that will inevitably pop up. I will look forward to seeing Capt Babbitt once again demonstrating knowledge, experience and good judgment to lead us in a future of on-time departures and safe journeys.
Kevin McCarthy is a aviation security expert at Catalyst Partners in Washington, DC. You can read his biography here.