Friday, August 14, 2009

FAA--Forget About Administration

Published on, August 14, 2009

FAA—Forget About Administration. That should be the official name of the Federal Aviation Administration for it is a toothless government agency long in bed with the industry it is supposed to regulate.

The recent fatal collision between an airplane and sighteeing helicopter over the Hudson River is yet another episode involving a regulatory agency with little interest in regulation. The busy Hudson River corridor adjacent to the skyscrapers of Manhattan is, because of FAA inaction, “unregulated” airspace.

“It is unconscionable that the FAA permits unregulated flights in a crowded airspace in a major metropolitan area,” declared Congressman Jerrold Nadler this week. “The Hudson River flight corridor must not continue to be the Wild West.”

But that’s the FAA—which prefers to let industry do its thing.

To the east of where that tragedy occurred, the people of Long Island have gotten a lesson on this in recent times as they’ve tried to seek action to deal with the racket of helicopters ferrying people between Manhattan and the Hamptons.

Despite the economic downturn, the helicopter traffic to and from the Hamptons, a warm-weather vacation mecca, is booming allowing the well-heeled to avoid traffic jams below—at the cost of peace for residents of the highly-populated island also below.

In the island’s largest county, Suffolk County, a law was proposed seeking to quell the noise. “Low flying helicopters have become a public nuisance in Suffolk County,” it declared. It continued: the FAA “has failed to regulate the operation” of the helicopters. Thus, it held, it was necessary for the county to step in.

“The operation of helicopters at low altitudes is presumed to be a hazard to persons and property on the surface and constitutes careless and reckless operation,” said the bill authored by Suffolk County Legislator Edward Romaine.

Standing with the helicopter industry against the measure was…yes, the FAA.

FAA Regional Executive Manager Diane Crean came before the legislature last year and declared that the FAA has “supreme” power over air traffic. The proposed law was “pre-empted” by the FAA, she insisted.

Romaine countered that the FAA insists “we control” helicopter traffic but, in fact, “doesn’t control it” and will allow the Hamptons choppers to fly at any altitude and without any plans. The FAA policy, he said, is: “Essentially, you’re on your own.”

Despite the FAA opposition, Suffolk County legislation to attempt to din the chopper racket passed and was signed into law in June. And it has teeth: “up to $1,000 and/or one year in prison per offense.”

FAA inaction is a national problem. The New York Times in a front-page article August 14 detailed the agency’s inaction when it came to recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board. “Fatal Collision Above the Hudson Bares a Longtime Rift Over Air Safety,” declared a headline for the piece. It related: “The safety board and the FAA have a long history of being frustrated with each other in matters involving major airliners or crashes of commercial jetliners, and there are various theories about why. On the one hand, the safety board sometimes proposes fixes that require technological advances or are viewed as too costly. On the other, the FAA is sometimes criticized as working too closely and protectively with the airline industry.”

The FAA website declares: “Our continuing mission is to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world…Safety is our passion…Integrity is our character. We do the right thing, even when no one is looking.” Can a government agency be charged with false advertising? (The FAA, not too incidentally, has an annual budget of more than $14 billion.)

Appearing with Congressman Nadler along the Hudson August 10, near where the airplane-helicopter crash took place, New York State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried said: “It’s obvious the FAA’s policy of leaving pilots to fend for themselves endangers people in the area and the rest of us down below. That’s got to change.”

Change must come—including complete reform of the FAA.

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