Rep. Jeff Van Drew’s diverse committee assignments and caucus membership activities during the 118th Congress include his reappointment to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The New Jersey 2nd District Republican Representative shared insights with Marty Kauchak, Halldale Media Group Editor, on his HR 220 (Advanced Aviation Act) and other commercial aviation sector topics.
CAT: Congressman, thanks for taking time at this busy point of the new Congress. Please highlight recent shortfalls you have observed in the US aviation infrastructure that compelled you to file the HR 220 legislation. And are these performance shortfalls a result of funding, failure to innovate, or other causes?
Rep. Van Drew (RVD): Thank you for your invitation. The NOTAM [Notice to Air Missions] failure is the latest example in a pattern of technological challenges on which the FAA has fallen short; from lagging UAS integration to the flat-footed response on 5G rollout. These failures have a root cause of an antiquated organizational structure and a lack of an effective technological integration pipeline. The FAA has become a reactive organization that is too often behind the curve. There are many good, hardworking people at the FAA who are doing their best inside of an antiquated system. Bureaucratic inertia makes it difficult for them to fix this problem from the inside.
The FAA made a proposal to Congress in 2021 that would have reorganized the agency and changed its approach to technology. This proposal was deeply flawed in the way it handled the UAS office and the NextGen organization. Congress rejected it but the FAA said it wanted to maintain a dialogue on the subject. That is when I began working with many different stakeholders on an alternative organizational proposal, which became The Advanced Aviation Act.
CAT: How do you see the US eVTOL industry positioned for near- and long-term growth in the US and for competition with non-US original equipment manufacturers in this market? Of particular interest may be any impediments to safe and efficient eVTOL operator certification and training that are on your watch list.
RVD: The United States led the world in aviation through the 20th century and it will lead the world in aviation through the 21st century. I know this because America is still producing the most innovative aviation technologies anywhere on the planet.
We have seen some very impressive eVTOL making their way through the certification process. Short-term, the American private sector has already innovated world-class products, from eVTOL to UAS to spectrum. We are still at the front of the pack, but that lead is diminishing. We need to pick up the pace.
The long-term challenge is scaling these technologies to where they are being used every day across the country. We have been stuck at the beginning of the process for 10 years with UAS. Now the eVTOL wave is rising and business as usual is not an option. We need to turn the FAA into an agency that can handle the magnitude and complexity of the new entrant integration challenge so that America leads the 21st century in aviation.
Rep. Jeff Van Drew, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee: “There are many good, hardworking people at the FAA who are doing their best inside of an antiquated system.”
CAT: How can and should US Congress help the US eVTOL industry overcome any of the challenges you just presented?
RVD: The challenge of new entrant integration spans many different types of technology, including eVTOL. There is a common interest across the aviation community to reform the structural flaws of the FAA. Congress has a role in this process because the cultural and organizational dynamics of the FAA bureaucracy make it very difficult to fix from within, and frankly we have reached a boiling point.
My legislation, the Advanced Aviation Act, moves to reform the FAA by establishing an Office of Advanced Aviation, led by an Associate Administrator, whose core focus is coordinating new entrant integration. The Office of Advanced Aviation can be formed through a reconfiguration of existing FAA resources and expertise. It will function to horizontally connect many disparate FAA business lines, serving as a connective tissue that will improve the flow of information. This will accelerate the certification process and help us detect systems-level problems before they become disruptions.
This horizontal approach capacitates a new aviation technology pipeline. This pipeline begins at a newly established “Aviation Innovation Program,” modeled after earlier FAA proposals. This program serves as an entry point for new technologies and offers a feasibility evaluation capability. Once deemed feasible, technologies are submitted to the Office of Advanced Aviation for new entrant integration. The Office of Advanced Aviation will work across the FAA through its horizontal network to coordinate all policymaking and certification activities necessary to the integration mission. This will aid our improvement of existing aviation systems and means the next revolutionary technology won’t take 10 years to get our attention. My bill also establishes an online portal that will allow applicants to track their project through this entire process.
We need to reform the FAA, not just pile resources on top of a clunky system. Stakeholders, including the FAA, have been talking about reorganization for years. Implementing the new organizational system in the Advanced Aviation Act is the key to unlocking the power of American aviation for the 21st century.
CAT: Your thoughts on how the FAA and other government and non-government organizations can address other aviation industry challenges – for example, commercial aviation industry pilot and maintenance personnel shortfalls.
RVD: Education policy is critically important for aviation workforce development in the long term. We as a country need to focus on developing trade skills and STEM capabilities instead of turning classrooms into social laboratories.