Dickson: FAA Learning from Max, Pandemic Challenges

The FAA is delegating fewer responsibilities to manufacturers, reexamining human factors assumptions, and working with international partners on pilot training requirements as it strives to learn lessons from the Boeing Max crashes, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said yesterday during remarks prepared for the Aero Club of Washington gathering.

Dickson provided an overview of the agency’s activities as it navigated through the pandemic, as well as the aftermath of the Max crashes. “Every day for weeks and months, it seemed, we faced challenges and an ever-changing operational environment—and wondered whether we would be able to operate at all.” He added that the lessons from the Max crashes provided “opportunities to strengthen not only the aircraft certification process but also our safety oversight and culture.”

In addition to addressing delegation, human factors, and pilot training—all prevailing themes examined after the crashes—Dickson reiterated that the FAA is promoting the expanded use of safety management systems to foster the ability to identify root causes of safety issues.

He noted that these efforts are progressing despite the pandemic. “The Max and certification reform efforts would have been major undertakings during normal times. But they were made even more challenging because of the pandemic,” he said, adding that Covid “challenged every part of the system.”

He recalled the agency’s efforts to keep the National Airspace System operating efficiently through the pandemic. These have included the continued 2020 implementation of ADS-B, which he noted now “almost seems like another life.” In addition, the agency has picked back up on its efforts to expand on Data Comm, performance-based navigation, and traffic-flow management.

The FAA has also stepped up its efforts on the integration of drones and fostering other advancements, such as space launches and the emerging advanced air mobility sector. “This is not pie-in-the-sky stuff,” Dickson said. “These vehicles and business models are real and they are exciting. We could potentially see Advanced Air Mobility leveraging local and regional airports, serving as a way to connect smaller communities with big cities.”

Meanwhile, he noted, the turnover in the workforce was “hastened by Covid-19,” and he said the industry now needs people with new skill sets, adding, “We have to go after the talent before other industries do.” He pointed to efforts such as the agency’s Adopt-a-School program, internships, promotion of STEM and career opportunities, and support of the Airport Design Challenge as some of the initiatives underway.

“These kinds of efforts and ones made by industry will help us attract the best, brightest, and most diverse group of people from all walks of life to seek careers in aviation and aerospace,” Dickson said.

He further noted the FAA’s focus on sustainability. “We’re making air traffic operations more efficient with new systems like the Terminal Flight Data Manager program,” he said, noting that it is designed to calculate the best time for aircraft to push back from the gate. “It’s not just a better passenger experience, but it also means less taxi time, less fuel burn, and less emissions.”

Dickson also pointed to efforts to partner with researchers on the development of more fuel-efficient aircraft and working to scale up sustainable aviation fuels through partnerships with universities. This effort is aimed at exploring how to stand up the regional supply chains, he said.

Courtesy of Kerry Lynch from AIN Online

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