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Fri, Aug 01, 2008

EAA'ers Meet The New (Acting) Boss At FAA Forum

Sturgell Makes His First Oshkosh Appearance As Administrator

He came, and he talked... and he left many still unsure of what kind of FAA Administrator Robert Sturgell will turn out to be, should he be eventually confirmed for the job he now tenuously holds with the qualifier "Acting" in front of his title.

Sturgell has been at AirVenture for several days, but he's kept a relatively low profile. (He was present at a Monday meeting of Congressional members with ties to aviation, for example, but he declined to speak at it.) That's a marked departure from his predecessor, Marion Blakey, who seemingly sought out bright lights and microphones at every opportunity.

In his opening comments, Sturgell's low-key, affable nature played well to the middling crowd at Thursday's forum... which was a far cry from the packed houses Blakey drew during her tenure, with several rows of seating in the Honda Pavilion left empty. But Sturgell -- himself an accomplished military and commercial pilot, another difference from his former boss -- knew how to appeal to that audience.

After allowing other FAA personnel in attendance to introduce themselves (which led to a good-natured game of "whose ties to GA are strongest?" during their intros) Sturgell paid heed to the four winners of the FAA's General Aviation Awards Program for 2008: CFI Max Trescott, FAAST Team Member John Teipen, Maintenance Technician Mike Busch, and Avionics Technician Tim Adkison, who received their honors Wednesday night at a Theater in the Woods presentation.

Sturgell then got down to business, giving EAA members some insight into his position on the so-called "51 percent" rule, and the FAA's efforts to modify it.

"As you know, we've got a proposed policy change for homebuilts," Sturgell said. "It's come to our attention that some companies may be skirting the letter of the law by selling a kit that requires nothing more than two turns of a screwdriver. For safety's sake, we just can't allow that. It's not right, and it circumvents the very safeguards that are put in place to protect everyone in the system.

"When we say that '51 percent of the plane has to be put together by the builder and not the kit maker,' we mean it," he continued. "In my opinion, 51 percent is appropriate. The aim here of the policy change isn't to punish. It's for your safety and for the integrity of the system."

That point segued into talk about the safety record of homebuilt aircraft. "We've noticed a disturbing trend lately with amateur-builts. Accidents and fatal accidents are increasing, both in absolute numbers and in rates," Sturgell said. "In fact, the fatal accident rate for this segment is three times as high as Personal Use GA.

"We've got an active partnership with Tom [Poberezny, EAA President] and his staff to try and bring these numbers down," Sturgell continued. "The General Aviation Joint Steering Committee has formed a new subcommittee for amateur-built aircraft safety. Earl Lawrence from EAA is co-chairing it, along with John Duncan of Flight Standards."

Other members of the newly-created group, which met for the first time Wednesday, includes GAMA [General Aviation Manufacturers Association], LAMA [Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association], and the Air Safety Foundation.

The need for such a committee seemed particularly apt. Though few in the forum audience likely knew it at the time, Sturgell's comments came within an hour of the fatal crash of a Lancair Legacy on its final approach to land at Wittman Field... one of two fatal accidents Thursday involving homebuilt aircraft nationwide.

Sturgell also addressed proposed changes to the light-sport aircraft rule, and implored anyone with comments on the current NPRM to weigh in. "Your feedback is vital to keeping the Light Sport rule on course," he said. "We want to hear from you before the comment period closes on August 13."

The administrator then turned his attention to matters of interest to the pilot community as a whole -- the need for better measures to prevent runway incursions, and recent FAA changes to terms of first-and-third-class medicals for pilots under 40. Sturgell then turned his attention to pitching the FAA's much-ballyhooed "NextGen" air traffic control system.

"I can say that we're making solid progress," Sturgell said. "The foundational technologies are either already in place or will be soon enough. They include WAAS, which provides increased airport access in reduced visibility conditions. We've published over 1,000 WAAS LPV procedures and we now have more of them than ILS procedures.

"RNP/RNAV are also making a difference. Look at what's going on at DeKalb Peachtree Airport in Atlanta. The new RNP procedure will support IMC operations to runway 2R to a 340-foot decision height. This mitigates obstacles on the approach path and de-conflicts traffic flows around Peachtree and Hartsfield."

Sturgell concluded his prepared remarks by noting the FAA is rolling out ADS-B procedures at several GA airports in the southeastern US, including Boca Raton, Lakeland Linder, and Dade Collier.

"So as you can see, we're moving confidently ahead with NextGen, and it's with general aviation's well-being in mind," Sturgell said. "Each and every one of you is a part of a remarkable history that's being made at this very moment. If you want to know why it's never been safer to fly, it's because of pilots like you. There's nothing but blue skies ahead."

FMI: www.faa.gov

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