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FAA Senior Manager Visits SSA Offices

SSA: The most obvious question to ask is how your own job and the work of the FAA has changed since the attacks of September 11th?

WRIGHT: Clearly we are still very much in a reactive mode at the FAA. The attacks set everyone back and we have been working hard to evolve new security modes and return the levels of service needed by air carriers and general aviation alike. A major change is that almost every decision we make these days involves security issues. Security is a driver in virtually everything. Given the tragedy in New York and Washington, DC this is certainly understandable but it really creates some problems as we try to serve the needs of diverse constituencies such as general, sport and commercial aviation.

SSA: What is the role of the FAA in this new security environment?

WRIGHT: That is something we are all working on very hard. There is a new agency called the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) that is separate under the Department of Transportation. There is much work to be done to sort out the spheres of influence and responsibilities between the FAA and the TSA. I can't tell you today exactly how it will all shake out but obviously the regulatory world as we knew it will change. I might say that one of the issues that is coming to the front burner is airport access for GA airports. SSA will need to keep a pretty close eye on this issue where you have soaring operations in concert with GA ops.

SSA: In general and sport aviation there is no doubt that the big associations such as AOPA and EAA do a lot for the little plane drivers. Over the years some folks have argued that small associations such as SSA have a hard time being effective in the large governmental arenas. What is your perception from the FAA on this issue?

WRIGHT: Without a doubt SSA is one of the most effective aviation associations in the country regardless of size. By focusing on the specialized issues and needs of soaring you can speak effectively with us in the FAA. Size alone is not a measure of effectiveness. Big organizations by their nature have to deal in broad issues and often have to compromise on issues to achieve consensus. SSA stands clearly for the interests of gliding and does, if I may say, an extremely effective job in Washington. I'd summarize it by saying that SSA's voice is just as loud and powerful as the "big guys" in the right offices.

SSA: We are coming to the end of Mrs. Garvey's term as Administrator of the FAA this summer. Does the uncertainty of who comes next affect what is happening in the FAA right now?

WRIGHT: Clearly the stability that comes from a known term of office and Mrs. Garvey's positive leadership during the past five years has benefited FAA. Obviously there is always a little doubt about who and what happens next. But the events of September 11th have kept us pretty well focused and I would have to say that we're not giving a lot of thought about who comes next. There is too much important work to get done today to spend much time worrying about three or four months downstream. Speaking of Administrators, one of the greatest friends of gliding in the U.S. was Don Engen who was our Administrator during the Reagan years. If I am remembering correctly he served on SSA's Board of Directors until the accident a couple of years ago. [ed. – Don Engen served as a member of SSA's Board for many years after he left the FAA. At the time of his gliding accident in 1999 he was serving as Director of the National Air and Space Museum]

SSA: One of our concerns is that we are seeing state legislatures appear to be moving into what we perceive as FAA's area of federal responsibility. For example, there is a bill before the New York legislature to limit solo flight to pilots 17 years of age or older. This clearly contravenes current federal regulations. How does the FAA perceive these situations and what will the agency do in these situations?

WRIGHT: I'll be honest with you, the FAA is stretched so thin right now that we often cannot tackle these kinds of issues head-on as quickly as we might if we had more time and manpower. In many cases the issues go away. In many cases they go away because groups such as SSA, AOPA and others stand up and argue against the proposed laws. To a degree we depend on this help. But if laws get to a stage where they clearly threaten to usurp federal responsibilities then I think we'll see FAA step to the forefront.

SSA: Your job as Manager of the GA and Commercial Division places you right in the middle of our issues and concerns. From your perspective what are the biggest challenges facing soaring in the coming couple of years?

WRIGHT: That's easy. At the risk of over simplifying I would say, "Airspace, airspace and airspace." There is no doubt in my mind that airspace control and access will present the biggest challenges to sport aviation, particularly gliding, in the coming years. SSA has an excellent track record of effectively representing the interests of gliding in this regard. I would say that you will have to re-double your efforts over the coming years.

SSA: Any last thoughts before we wrap up this conversation?

WRIGHT: Very few people on the outside realize the extent of SSA's involvement with the FAA and even fewer understand what I would call the “reach†of SSA. That is, SSA is involved in more places, doing more good work and protecting gliding in places that few groups reach even if they are the big guys we talked about earlier. A lot of it is due to your volunteers and a lot is due to the quality of your professional staff. Regardless, people should understand that SSA is a strong, productive force for gliding. We have some big issues coming but by working together the FAA and the SSA can make the best of them for gliding.

April 20, 2002.

Posted: 4/21/2002 By: General News

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