Airlines for America (A4A) President and CEO Nick Calio’s comments to the Aero Club of Washington this January 17, were nothing less than a clarion call-to-action for the wider commercial aviation industry and its many stakeholders in and beyond government. When the association leader told the Aero Club of Washington early on that “Change only occurs when the pain of the status quo is worse than the pain of changing. Friends, we are at that point,” it was clear these remarks were not intended for a typical, clubby, inside-the-Washington, DC Beltway lunch gathering. An extract of Calio’s comments is provided below. 

The association leader highlighted the urgency to address a number of long-standing, festering challenges and threats to the commercial aviation industry. With the exception of giving a nod to the heroic actions of the crew on the recent Air Alaska flight 1282, the topics and themes of the address remain works in progress at best, and are familiar to followers of CAT  and attendees at WATS and other Halldale Group events.      

ATC staffing was at the top of the president and CEO’s list of challenges requiring collaborative efforts. Noting A4A believes the US Department of Transportation is putting together a plan to address the shortfall of 3,000 controllers, Calio emphasized, “more urgency is required.” 

A follow-on topic was The Collegiate Training Initiative (CTI), a program that was successful in supplementing the training that occurs at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City. Noting FAA’s efforts to revitalize the program are stalling, Calio offered, “what the FAA needs to do is share the Academy’s curriculum and simulation capabilities with these schools and then set up an oversight process to ensure the schools can provide an equivalent level of training,” and opined, “It doesn’t have to be this hard!”

Infrastructure and Technology 

In one instance of aging FAA infrastructure, Calio called attention to the FAA’s 21 Air Route Traffic Control Centers being “located in buildings that are roughly 60 years old, with no current plan or budget to replace any of them.” After declaring, “That’s almost as old as I am!” he noted “Budgeting is always hard, but we need a transformative plan that reevaluates the basic standards we have used for decades.”

Beyond aging infrastructure is the presence of outdated and near-obsolete technologies throughout FAA, and even instances of airports not being equipped with basic equipment. 

In another attention-getting moment, Calio noted demand to and from Austin Airport has been growing astronomically for years, with the well-documented runway incursion there last February “being a huge wakeup call.” He continued, “I’m sure the tech-savvy folks in Austin would be shocked to know their airport doesn’t have ground surveillance equipment.”

FAA Budget

That was a lead-in to the FAA Reauthorization Bill. The A4A leader pointed out “We’re operating on our second FAA authorization extension. Working extension-to-extension is not conducive to the growth and efficiency of the NAS [National Airspace System],” and in a not-too-subtle message for Congress, added, “The FAA needs long-term certainty, as does industry.”

Calio’s prepared comments may be viewed in entirety here.

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