I write this column as I return from the 2019 Citation Jet Pilots (CJP) Convention in Colorado Springs. Each year, the multi-day event offers a full schedule of seminars, exhibitors and speakers surrounding Citation ownership. This marked my second time attending the convention, and I again leave feeling inspired after three full days with such a passionate group of owner-pilots.
Included in the lineup of guest speakers was FAA Deputy Administrator Dan Elwell. Elwell served as Acting FAA Administrator from January 2018 until August 2019 and now works alongside recently appointed FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. The two are responsible for the safety and efficiency of the largest aerospace system in the world, which operates more than 50,000 flights per day and employees more than 47,000 people. Elwell also oversees the FAA’s multibillion-dollar NextGen air traffic control (ATC) modernization program as the U.S. shifts from ground-based radar to satellite technology.
CJP CEO Andrew Broom interviewed Elwell on a variety of topics including aircraft equipage, training, automation, airports and technology. While he tailored some of his responses to the CJP community, I feel much of the information is relevant for the owner-pilot community as a whole. Below are a few excerpts from the interview.
Broom: “How is everything coming along with ADS-B mandate just around the corner?”
Elwell: “We’re looking good, though the piston rates in GA are really low. Come January 1, there is a certain percentage of the piston population that might run into issues. But the CJP community and business aviation community has never been a concern. In fact, they basically led the way. Related to this topic, we are also developing what we call the minimum capability list (MCL) that will be more voluntary. Though not a mandate, if the MCL is socialized and adapted throughout all the centers, we will get a lot closer to the efficiency that we are all seeking through Next-Gen.”
Broom: “Having trained in three different types of aviation – military, commercial, civilian – what recommendations could you relate to this group from your training experience?”
Elwell: “That’s a tough question because unfortunately, the amount of training an individual does has economic considerations and constraints. But if those constraints were set aside, I’d say accomplish every course of study and area of study that you possibly can. Focus on where you fly most, what you fly most, what you do most – and like in any profession, be at the top of your game as far as continuous learning and understanding the latest tools and technology out there.”
Broom: “What can we learn from the recent limelight on automation?”
Elwell: “Man’s interface with the machine has been around since the Wrights; it just now takes on a different aspect with automation. There is absolutely no doubt automation is the primary conduit to increased safety in recent decades. But there is also no doubt if the operator does not maintain flying skills and relies too heavily on automation, that has consequences. In the incidents with the Boeing 737 Max, there is more to those accidents than has been in the public space, simply because final reports have not been released…but that interface between automation and manual flying and experience is huge. Automation is there to make the pilot’s job easier and handle 98 percent of anything that can go wrong. The problem occurs when the pilot ends up having to deal with the 2 percent that not even the engineers could have foreseen going wrong.”
Broom: “How can we work together on improving the efficiency of ATC, specifically in the crowded airspace in the Northeast?”
Elwell: “The Next-Gen Advisory Committee is all about efficiency and modernization of NAS (National Airspace System) and ATC. We have representation from every sector of the ecosystem and the number one priority is the Northeast corridor. The fact of the matter is there are too many airplanes in a confined airspace at one time. For situations like this, in my experience as a pilot, the operator can do more for the efficiency for his or her route than anyone else. Be aware of the best times and routes to file; be respectfully collaborative with ATC. The best tool for efficiency today is you – the pilots.”
When asked what CJP can do to make his job easier, Elwell responded, “At the end of the day, we are a safety agency. The safer you are as an individual pilot, and the more you can be advocates for your place in the ecosystem, the better and safer the system will be.” A sentiment we can all stand by.