FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, saying aviation stands on the cusp of the “next great age,” focused on the need for collaboration, embracing change and transparent conversations in his farewell address before the Aero Club of Washington on November 14. Huerta, who stepped in as deputy administrator in 2010 and then was sworn in to a five-year term as administrator in early 2013, is set to relinquish his current role at the agency when his term expires in early January.
Changes are coming fast and the industry has a “new need for speed,” Huerta said in his prepared remarks. “The skies will be home to multitudes of new users, flying in ways we can only imagine,” he said. The community can debate when drone taxis will enter service or how many people they will carry, “but there’s no debate they’re on the horizon,” Huerta said, noting that in early November Uber announced a partnership with NASA on research on traffic systems for flying cars.
AGENCY CULTURE CHANGE
“Coming into this job, it was apparent to me that we needed more consensus and clarity around the goals we were pursuing as an industry. We also couldn’t just think about making technological changes—although there were many in the works. We also needed to think about changing the culture inside the FAA.”
Things needed to move faster, he said, adding that FAA couldn’t afford to move at the traditional pace of government.
“We’ll get left behind at the launch pad, wondering what just happened,” he said, adding that’s why he spent so much time working to change the culture. “As an agency, we traditionally spent a lot of time studying things—thinking through all the angles before taking even a single step. We also viewed things in terms of black and white. It’s either right, or it’s wrong,” Huerta said. “We no longer have time for these luxuries. We must all become comfortable working in gray.”
Huerta said one of his favorite moments during his tenure occurred a few years ago when Dorenda Baker, who was shepherding the Part 23 rewrite, began a presentation by saying, “So you said it was okay to break some china.” When she finished, Huerta asked the team whether they really wanted to make those changes. The response, he said: “Not only do we want to, but we have to.”
The agency has strived to become more flexible and proactive. But Huerta also underscored the importance of collaboration. “Our aviation family is only going to keep expanding. Our table has to grow with it. We need to hear from a broad range of voices if we’re going to get things right.”
He conceded the industry will have its disagreements and “it’s very easy to dig in when somebody challenges the status quo.” Huerta pointed to the various opinions involved in debate surrounding the future of the air traffic control organization.
“People are entitled to their own opinions. But they’re not entitled to their own facts,” he said. “We need to have a transparent discussion that’s based on where we are today, not [where we were] a decade ago.”
Structure alone won’t solve funding challenges facing the ATC system. “It’s time to have an honest conversation about what the American public expects us to do, and how best to pay for it,” he said. “We can’t keep talking past each other. We need to talk with each other.”
Huerta said his advice to his successor will be: “Embrace change. Be a good listener. And make the tough decisions. The pace out there is full throttle and the aviation community needs someone at the FAA who is going to lead.”