You’ve all heard me and many others beat these management folks up in the past year, whether it’s about the failure of the agency to negotiate some sort of settlement with the nation’s air traffic controllers, to the mess the inspectors uncovered with their bosses in Washington over how much self-policing the airlines should be allowed, to why a guy in a lawn chair over Idaho isn’t in jail for endangering the safety of the flying public after launching his balloon-powered seat over Oregon over this weekend. And don’t get me started on user fees and Next-Gen or the JPDO …
The overall responsibility for all this FAA silliness ends up precisely where it should, on the desk of Bobby Sturgell, the man who would be administrator.
But for once, let’s cut Bobby a little slack … not too much though, because while Bobby has proven he’s great at making speeches – thirteen in the past three months in fact – he is not up to the job of evoking change at the agency, much less leading it anywhere. When I went through FAA Management School in Lawton OK 20 years ago, management of everything was the job to be learned, not leadership. It seems that little has changed.
So why show Bobby Sturgell any mercy?
Simple. Most of the chaos, especially the lack of progress on NextGen, the bring-them-to-their-knees negotiating style of the agency with NATCA and the even the ongoing lack of agency oversight of the airlines evolved out of five years of the Marion Blakey administration. Blakey was also big on ideas and talk, but very short on how to make it all happen. She was hand-picked by George Bush you may recall, a man who has also left many other federal agencies without leaders as well due to a severe lack of his own strategery.
During the inspector controversy last month, we learned at how good the top level agency folks are at finding real work after they leave federal service. What those managers – Blakey now heads the powerful Aerospace Industries Association – leave behind is an agency wandering even more than before they arrived as did Blakey.
So what do we do now since the agency is clearly going to wander at least until a new president takes office next January?
Easy. It’s time industry got behind not just a new man or woman as the political appointee of the day to FAA. It’s time they started figuring out who the industry leaders are and why they are good leaders and then try to pass that on to the candidates before we vote. The industry would get behind the right person if only there were a leader to follow. But it is not simply going to all work out unless we all make the effort for change this election around.
Speeches have their place in the world, but our industry is in serious trouble right now as the air travel world we’ve all come to know changes right before our eyes. We need a leader in 2009, not another manager.
Robert P. Mark is CEO of CommAvia and editor of the syndicated aviation blog Jetwhine.com