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Fri, Jul 30, 2010

Babbitt Suffers 'Sophomore Slump' In Second AirVenture Appearance

Secretary Of Transportation Appears At Oshkosh As Well

By Tom Patton

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt made his second appearance in as many days at AirVenture 2010 in Oshkosh on Thursday, but his "Meet the Administrator" appearance this year was a bit of a letdown from last year's strong showing.

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt

The "Meet the Administrator" forum is an annual event at AirVenture. Last year, in his first appearance since getting the job, Babbitt fielded questions fairly candidly from EAA members who packed Pavilion #7 on the EAA grounds to get a glimpse of the new boss. This year, Babbitt seemed to deflect more questions than last year, and deferred several to the cadre of FAA department heads sitting in the first few rows.

Babbitt made his usual speech about safety and professionalism, which have been ongoing memes for the administrator since taking office. He again cited statistics for GA accidents ... 120 fatalities in GA in the first six months of 2010, which is an improvement over 2009. But improving is not good enough, he said. "The only acceptable accident rate is 0."

Babbitt again reminded the EAA members that he can't regulate professionalism, and called on every pilot in the room to "look in the mirror each time you fly, and ask yourself 'is this the person I want flying me and my family."

Also appearing on the stage was Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who made brief remarks supportive of GA. "DOT cares a great deal about what you do, and the Oshkosh event. GA is an absolutely critical part of our aviation system," LaHood said.

DOT Secretary Ray LaHood

The administrator left time at the end of the presentation for some questions from EAA members, which were NOT interrupted by local media asking about Tuesday's accident on the field (unlike Tuesday's briefing at the media center) Some of the questions were new.  A member asking about a Class C airspace proposal in Southern CA was told by the administrator that he would "look into" the issue, saying he was not familiar with the details of the specific proposal. Asked about user fees, Babbitt said that those had been proposed by the previous administration, and had not been included in the current budget proposed by the President. But as to the possibility of fees being in the offing down the road, he said that there was no way to know what might be in future budgets.

Babbitt And EAA's Tom Poberezny

But the administrator was also asked about some of the same things Thursday as he had been a year ago. One of those was the Through-The-Fence issue, which had been the topic of a lot of discussion in 2009. To this question he was able to answer specifically that he had visited about 25 airports where TTF is an issue, that comments were being solicited at the current time, and that he expects a final rule by the end of the summer. When asked about fuel, Babbitt said again that the EPA is this lead agency on the issue, and that the FAA is working with the environmental regulators to find a drop-in fuel replacement to 100LL. He cited the example of alternative jet fuels currently under evaluation which are direct replacement to Jet A.

There were some instances in which Babbitt deferred the questions to the FAA department heads who had traveled with him to Oshkosh. Those employees encouraged the people asking the questions to speak with them after the presentation to get more details about their issues.

Last year, Pavilion #7 was filled with an overflow crowd to hear Babbitt speak. This year, about a quarter to a third of the seats were empty. What ever the reason, it would appear that Babbitt still has some distance to go to truly win over the EAA audience.



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