The Indie ATC

New legislation would create an air traffic control system independent from the FAA.


Saying the U.S. air traffic control system “incredibly inefficient, and it will only get worse as passenger levels grow and as the FAA falls further behind in modernizing the system,” key officials on February 3 introduced legislation in Congress that would establish an independent, not-for-profit corporation to modernize and operate ATC in the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Penn.) and Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) sponsored the bill, dubbed the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act.

The AIRR Act (H.R. 4441) is a six-year reauthorization of the FAA and maintains the agency’s role as aviation safety regulator. The federally chartered ATC corporation would be governed by a board representing the aviation system’s users and the public interest. Many major U.S. airlines applauded the bills, with their trade association, Airlines For America, saying, “We share Chairman Shuster’s goal of seeing more air traffic controllers hired, making our system even safer, and most importantly, making flying better—and at no additional cost—for the traveling public.” Others weren’t so sure.

Aviation Innovation

National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) President and CEO Ed Bolen called ATC privatization funded by user fees “a fatally flawed concept,” one at odds with ensuring non-discriminatory access to the nation’s airports and airspace. Bolen noted that steps appear to have been taken in the legislation to exempt some segments of general aviation from the user fees included in the bill, the debate over ATC privatization has always been about much more than user fees. “NBAA believes that the public airspace belongs to the public, and should be run for the public’s interest,” he added.

“EAA supports a stable, predictable funding mechanism for the national airspace system, but we oppose this bill as it is now written,” said Jack J. Pelton, Experimental Aircraft Association CEO and chairman. “To be fair, there are some good things in the bill for general aviation, which the bill’s co-sponsors say address GA concerns, especially the prohibition of user fees, the reintroduction of aeromedical reform as originally intended, certification reform, and additional FAA authority to help deploy a future high-octane unleaded fuel.

“What is also part of the bill, however, is an ATC governance structure that heavily favors airlines and commercial interests, and creates real threats to the services that keep America’s air traffic system the safest and most effective in the world. ATC privatization carries the real possibility of putting GA in the ‘big squeeze’ regarding fees, services, airport access, and the individual freedom to fly for grassroots and recreational flying.”

Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association president Mark Baker said much the same thing: “There are some very good things for general aviation in this bill. But there are other provisions we will firmly oppose such as user fees for any segment of GA, including business aviation. And still other elements, like the plan to separate air traffic control from the FAA, raise important questions that demand meaningful answers. Ultimately, we need to know that any FAA reauthorization legislation will protect the interests of general aviation now and into the future.”

 Reform and Reauthorization Act

Others in Congress are siding with general and business aviation. Leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees signed joint letters before the bill’s introduction. “We will not support legislation that would create a separate air traffic control organization outside the FAA and removed from the annual appropriations process,” one letter stated. The current law authorizing the FAA and its aviation programs expires at the end of March.

SBs Still Aren’t Mandatory

Longstanding FAA policy formally exempts Part 91 operators from mandatory compliance with a manufacturer’s service bulletins (SBs) in most circumstances. The agency reaffirmed that position in January when it updated Advisory Circular AC 2-77B, Use of Manufacturer’s Maintenance Manuals.

According to the AC, there remain four instances in which an SB “would be regulatory”: 1) when all or a portion of an SB is part of an airworthiness directive (AD); 2) when the SB is part of the FAA-approved Airworthiness Limitation Section (ALS) of the manufacturer’s manual or the type certificate (TC); 3) when SBs are incorporated into some type of FAA-approved inspection program, and 4) when SBs are listed as an additional maintenance requirement in a certificate holder’s operations specifications.

Manufacturers issue SBs for a variety of reasons, not all of them regulatory in nature. By restating its policy, the FAA is advising both operators and its own inspectors that compliance with an SB is optional for in-service aircraft unless one or more the four conditions are met.

Landing Gear AC Canceled

Another FAA Advisory Circular met its demise last month when the FAA canceled AC 20-34D, Prevention of Landing Gear Failures. According to a memorandum from John Duncan, director of the agency’s Flight Standards Service, “A review of two years’ worth of data in the FAA Incident and Accident database showed 17 incidents for gear collapse on the landing or take off in the U.S. fleet.” Duncan noted that in “several of the incidents,” operators admitted the collapses were related to hard landings.

Does that mean we’ve cured gear-collapse incidents? No. But, “The problem is not statistically significant and the AC should be cancelled,” according to the memorandum. “The AC will not be rewritten.”

Convert MDA To DA?

There’s long been an argument about how to execute a non-precision approach (NPA) with a minimum descent altitude (MDA): Use a constant-angle descent or the so-called “dive and drive” method—a steeper descent to the MDA and leveling off, then looking for the airport. Proponents of both methods have good arguments.

Recent advances in avionics mean navigation systems now can generate a pseudo glideslope to a runway even if the published approach isn’t approved for one. That development, in turn, has created demand for the FAA to approve the capability.

In 2011, the agency published initial guidance, outlining what individual operators must do to obtain specific approval through a letter of authorization. Since then, that guidance has undergone some revisions and now is incorporated into the FAA’s formal process of approving operational specifications. The guidance is found in FAA Order 8900.1, Volume 3, Chapter 18, Section 5, paragraph C073.

To use an MDA as a DA when using vertical navigation, operators “must be authorized with a Letter of Authorization (LOA) C073 in order to use an MDA as a DA with VNAV.” In Notice NOTC6369, the FAA recommends that operators wishing to implement such a change review paragraph C073 to determine if the aircraft is capable of using MDA as DA, assess whether the required procedures are acceptable and, if so, request LOA C073 from their local Flight Standard District Office.


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