Thursday, May 11, 2017

Pilot shortage, predictable funding are among commercial aviation's most pressing issues

Memphis airport chief Scott Brockman plans to spend his year as the nation’s top airport executive pushing for solutions to a pilot shortage, funding uncertainties and too much red tape.

Brockman was elected this week as chairman of the American Association of Airport Executives, whose 5,500 members represent more than 850 airports.

Brockman said his role puts Memphis at the forefront of legislative and regulatory discussions including whether to raise passenger facility charges, capped at $4.50 per departure since 2001, and streamlining programs that vet travelers for domestic and international flights.

Brockman, 55, joined the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority in 2003 and became president and chief executive three years ago. He previously was an airport executive in Tucson, Des Moines and Sarasota-Bradenton.

Airport board chairman Pace Cooper said Brockman’s national role bodes well for Memphis.

“Because the government legislative process is so crucial in driving success for airports like MEM, Scott's service will undoubtedly bring a halo effect of good tidings for our hometown,” Cooper said. “The (airport) board is proud of our authority president for his leadership and influence."

Brockman spoke with The Commercial Appeal about challenges facing airports and the aviation system.

He called it “a huge issue” that some 20,000 pilots are scheduled to retire over the next five years, and there aren’t enough pilots in the training pipeline.

Industry executives have blamed a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rule requiring co-pilots or first officers to log 1,500 flight hours, compared to a previous requirement of 250 hours, to obtain an Airline Transport Pilot certificate. The rule was a reaction to a Colgan Air crash near Buffalo, New York in 2009.

Not all training hours are created equal, Brockman said, and the association wants to work with agencies to come up with “a very quantifiable value on training hours.”

“An hour in a (Boeing) 737 simulator, addressing real situations, is much more valuable to a commercial pilot than an hour in a crop duster or single-engine private aircraft. What I want to do is work with the industry to develop a very well-thought out plan that says ‘If you go through a commercial pilot four-year course, what should that be worth?’” Brockman said.

Pilot training requirements fall within another Brockman focus area: over-regulation.

“The aviation industry, airports in particular, are some of the most regulated portion of our federal government," Brockman said. "We accept a grant and it brings you 40-something what they call grant assurances, which are quasi-regulations. We have to abide by them.

“I want to work with the administration and agencies to come together and develop a more common sense process; get rid of some of the regulations that don’t bring any value to the industry."

Travelers can enroll in the Transportation Security Administration’s TSA PreCheck program for expedited screening on domestic flights. The Customs and Border Protection Global Entry program covers international travelers and includes eligibility for TSA PreCheck. The programs maintain separate offices in airports.

“I want us to work with the TSA and Customs and Border Protection to see if there’s a way to combine and bring those programs, TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, together and save the federal government money and eliminate duplication,” Brockman said.

The association wants changes in the passenger facility charge (PFC) program, which authorizes a fee for each passenger departure to fund specific projects.

Memphis is one of few U.S. airports that does not have a PFC, but it has applied to the FAA for a $4.50 PFC to help pay for a $214 million modernization and expansion of the B Concourse.

“What we have asked for is for Congress to approve an increase and index the PFC program so it can keep up with inflation,” Brockman said. “A lot of airports want an unlimited PFC that lets the airport and the community decide how much they are willing to put on a traveler to pay for a project at their airport.”

Brockman said association lobbyists will be pushing hard for Congress to assure a steady long-term funding source for airport infrastructure and aviation-related programs. Airport Improvement Program grants are one source of funding in a stopgap authorization through Sept. 30.

“That affects us because our funding for grants, security, for TSA checkpoints, for Customs and Border Protection, all of those things are held up,” Brockman said. “One of my goals will be to try to get Congress to approve a multiyear, long-term reauthorization bill, so that the industry does not operate on 60-90-180-day funding plans. I or any other airport cannot fund a project when we have 90 days worth of grants.”

The concourse modernization, for example, counts on $28 million from the Airport Improvement Program.

Brockman’s term as association chairman is part of a six-year commitment to the executive committee. He started as secretary-treasurer three years ago and will serve another two years as a past chairman.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” he said.

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  1. As a 1800 hour pilot that finally gave up the dream, I can tell you that I am unwilling to ply my trade at the miserly rate of $10.00 an hour for the privilege of flying an shiny old airplane on the back side of the clock while being displaced hundreds of miles from family. This is a job for young single people that can't get everything they own in the trunk of their car and don't mind eating Ramon noodles.

  2. Your display self importance is so obvious perhaps it is best you go manage a Burger King and practice your real 1800 hour pilot talents. You are a great example of a typical arrogant individual that thinks having a pilot's license makes you something special...your attitude would make you nothing but a constant irritant cry baby to human resources...

  3. You sound like an entitled, immature, rotten kid; that doesn't want to work hard, not willing to work overtime, if had enough money would not want to work. ---->> "I can tell you that I am unwilling to ply my trade at the miserly rate of $10.00 an hour for the privilege of flying an shiny old airplane on the back side of the clock while being displaced hundreds of miles from family."

  4. You know what's sad about it? First commenter really could go manage a Burger King and make more money than he would as an entry level professional pilot with 1800 hours. Take into account the time and expense of earning his ratings (assuming he is not a private with 1800 hours and has ATP and qualified for an airline job), he is one of the many of us who refuse to whore ourselves out to the industry.