Each day, the HAI staff share a common focus: how do we help our members keep the rotors turning around the world? Our mission is to help you to maintain an operating environment that is safe, free of burdensome regulations and laws, operationally efficient, economically viable, and sustainable.
A critical way HAI does this is to identify threats that could restrict or eliminate our members’ ability to conduct, grow, and sustain their operations. I’m sorry to report, there are now two issues that pose serious threats to general aviation and, in particular, the helicopter industry.
The airlines and their allies in the U.S. Congress are pushing legislation that would remove the air traffic control (ATC) organization from the FAA and hand it over to a private corporation dominated by airline-related representatives. If they succeed, the new ATC organization could restrict our industry’s access to certain airspace and facilities, and reduce or eliminate helicopter-oriented initiatives.
Supporters of this effort say a privatized ATC is necessary to advance technological programs such as NextGen. I have an even better idea: why don’t we remove the governmental restrictions that hobble the FAA and let it get on with doing its job. We do not need to give taxpayer-funded programs — including millions in infrastructure — to private corporations for free.
Everyone acknowledges that the U.S. ATC system is the safest and most efficient in the world. This being the case, just what is the problem that ATC proponents are trying to solve?
Erosion of FAA Authority
As far back as I can remember, the FAA has controlled the airspace from the ground up, as well as all related aviation activities. Legislation such as the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 (ADA) was intended to protect us from the negative effects of multiple, confusing, and conflicting local and state aviation regulations. The FAA, as sole aviation authority, oversaw a unified, safe, and efficient National Airspace System.
In the future, this may no longer be true. The FAA’s authority and oversight over aviation is being challenged on different fronts. Missions such as helicopter air ambulance are facing potential requirements from several state governments that want to operationally and economically control aviation activities within their borders.
When it comes to the new technology of unmanned aircraft systems or drones, numerous local and state governments have already established laws for drone operations in their jurisdiction, in direct conflict with the ADA and the authority of the FAA.
Where does the FAA stand on this erosion of its authority? The agency has stated that local and state governments have a place at the table when discussing aviation regulatory initiatives.
Certainly, local and state governments have the right to make judgments on land use within their boundaries, such as the landing or takeoff of aircraft. However, when the aircraft is off the ground and in the airspace, it belongs to the FAA.
I certainly support these same governments conducting a dialogue with aviation stakeholders such as HAI and helicopter operators to express their concerns and desires. And we are obligated to make a best effort to address those concerns. However, the regulation and oversight of aviation should be left to the subject-matter experts of the FAA.
Fundamental principles of aviation, such as the definition of navigable airspace, are now under discussion. For example, where does the FAA’s authority begin? At the ground? If not, at what altitude? The answers could mean a reshaping of U.S. aviation.
These issues are at the heart of recent legislative efforts to give regulatory control of unmanned aircraft to local municipalities. Instead of defending its authority, it seems that the FAA is looking to accommodate.
If you think this only affects unmanned aircraft and does not concern you, think again. Drones are legally a category of aircraft, just like helicopters and airplanes, and the importance of precedent in law cannot be overstated.
Given this ominous activity, it is not hard to see that the FAA’s authority over aviation is eroding, coupled with a rise of local authority over manned and unmanned aviation and airspace. As in the past, we will request your help in turning back these negative trends. Get engaged, become active, and maintain your passion.
Thank you for your past and future support as HAI fights on your behalf to “keep the rotors turning.”
That’s my story and I am sticking to it. Let me know what you think at [email protected].
As always, fly safe — fly neighborly.
Matt Zuccaro is president and CEO of HAI.
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