Small Operator Safety

Feb. 24, 2020


Q: What excites you about returning to your position as FAA Associate Administrator for Airports?

It is a unique opportunity for me to return to the top FAA position responsible for advocating, regulating and building to secure the future of our nation’s airports. All of us in the aviation industry understand the critical necessity of expanding and maintaining air-ports of all sizes. Now, we not only have a U.S. president and secretary of transportation who understand that need and talk about it frequently, but we also have a Congress enacting the first long-term authorization of the FAA since 1982 and appropriating an additional

$1.5 billion in discretionary funds out of the General Fund (not the Trust Fund) and prioritizing small hubs, non-hubs and non-primary airports. NBAA members are already seeing major improvements at these airports, which are critical to business aviation and other important services. Who wouldn’t want to come back to this job at such a critical time?

Q: How do you perceive aviation challenges at the federal and municipal government levels have changed or evolved since your prior service?

The change has been dramatic. As one example, the cost of aviation infrastructure has risen considerably, while the annual allocations of regular Airport Improvement Program dollars have remained essentially flat. The supple-mental appropriations in 2018 and 2019 have helped a great deal, and we hope that type of additional funding will continue. Costs will continue to rise, as airport sponsors compete for the same type of contractors that also build other major projects. It’s simple supply and demand. This makes it challenging for airport sponsors to put together the “suite” of funding sources needed for airport projects. This presents more opportunities for public/private partnerships to support airports, and there are many success stories of business aviation partnering with airports to expand.

On the municipal level, we are facing more access restriction challenges and the desire to close airports. We want city leaders to understand what a valuable asset an airport is to a community. The FAA is always available to meet with city leaders to address airport-related questions or concerns.

Q: What can NBAA members do to effectively support their local airport?

I mentioned attempts to impose access restrictions. NBAA and its members can use their powerful voices to inform elected officials at all levels about the value of airports. I acknowledge that it is a tougher lift at GA airports.

I also encourage NBAA members to educate fellow operators on the importance of flying neighborly and working with the community. If you have a noise problem, my advice is to sit down with the local people and listen to them. You might find some things that you can actually fix. Even if the challenge is beyond the control of those involved, the community will know that you cared enough about their concerns and listened to them. Often that will provide an avenue toward better future relations.

Airport users need to be tuned in to what’s happening at their home base and at the airports they frequent. Any time NBAA members can use their influence to achieve these objectives, it will better serve all aviation stakeholders.

Q: What is the FAA doing to ensure proper airports funding?

The FAA has been focusing on ensuring that aviation revenue, especially fuel tax revenue, stays on the airport in conformity with federal law. Airport revenue diversion drives up the cost of doing business on airports and, in many cases, deprives them of their ability to raise the local share for federal grants to help support aeronautical projects.

Q: What safety trends do you see at airports used primarily by business aviation?

Safety will always be the principal focus of the FAA’s Airports Organization. We are upgrading runway safety areas to standard dimensions, and where that is not possible, alternatives like engineered materials arresting systems are used.

Also, we continue to support the acquisition of airfield rescue, firefighting and snow removal equipment. We also are correcting airfield geometry to eliminate “hot spots,” reducing runway incur-sions through our Runway Incursion Mitigation Program, and upgrading airfield lighting and signage.

In addition, we are working to reduce wrong-surface incidents. There is one incident almost every day, and 83% of them involve GA. The FAA is working hard to lower that rate, collaborating with users to identify and reduce the causal factors. In addition, there are a number of great educational resources available through NBAA and other organizations to help pilots prevent wrong-surface events. I encourage operators to review them.

Q: How will unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), urban air mobility (UAM) and other new entrants affect public-use airports?

The advent of UAS presents a unique challenge for airports. The risk from the “clueless and careless” operators that fly drones around airports without any intention of causing harm will continue, but it can be easily managed.

Of greater concern is the risk from drone operators that clearly intend to disrupt airport operations, and the U.S. Department of Transportation Drone Advisory Committee is moving expeditiously to develop guidance on remote ID and other effective drone countermeasures.

There is an array of benefits that will accrue to airports with the advent of drones. For example, drones can be used to inspect a runway for foreign object debris and pavement condition in a matter of minutes using drone-mounted high-resolution cameras. UAS also can be utilized to constantly patrol an airport’s perimeter. They also can monitor nearby wildlife habitats and hazards. These applications benefit airports by enabling them to complete these critical tasks in a much less labor- and asset-intensive way.

GA airports are perfect candidates for becoming vibrant UAM hubs. A lot of these airports are likely to be outside Class B and C airspace surrounding major metropolitan areas. I anticipate that land-use planning and zoning changes will need to be made for the arrival of UAM.

Implementation is under local jurisdiction and is not the purview of the federal government. The FAA doesn’t have or want that authority. However, NBAA members should be involved in discus-sions of how UAM will be implemented.

Most people’s largest asset is their home, so when you talk to them in that context, they get riled up. NBAA members need to champion these emerging technologies and be prepared for the debates on land use, privacy, regulatory takings [government restrictions on property use], etc.

KIRK SHAFFER – a Texas native, U.S. Army veteran and private pilot – was reap-pointed as the FAA’s associate administrator for airports on Dec. 17, 2018. He served in this role previously between 2007 and 2009. Shaffer has more than 30 years’ experience as an airport executive, advocate and regulator. In his current position, Shaffer is responsible for Airport Improvement Program grants and oversees national airport safety and standards, planning, engineering, environmental processing, financial assistance and compliance for more than 3,320 public-use airports nationwide. Shaffer authored the first letter of intent securing a federal funding commitment for an airport capacity project in advance of congressional appropriations, thus inventing an airport infrastructure finance system. From 1986 to 2004, he held several leadership positions at the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority.