February 27, 2018

FAA official says “regulatory humility” is key to navigating new aviation landscape

Speaking at the American Bar Association Forum on Air and Space Law’s 2018 Update Conference, Charles M. Trippe Jr., chief counsel for the Federal Aviation Administration said, “Aviation is changing profoundly before our very eyes.”

FAA Chief Counsel Charles M. Trippe Jr. addresses the ABA Forum on Air and Space Law’s 2018 Update Conference


Trippe said that it’s not just the hardware and software of the industry that is changing, but the culture of aviation itself.

One hundred years ago aviation was primarily the domain of a small, privileged group of pilots and controllers who had “studied and toiled long and hard” to learn their craft. “Today anyone with $500 to spend at Best Buy can become a pilot in a relatively short order of time, with remarkably little training,” Trippe said, referring to the growing popularity of drones, both among hobbyists and commercial entities.

That popularity is only expected to grow. According to the recently published FAA Aerospace Forecast, there are about 2.5 million drones already in use in the United States, and that number is projected to nearly triple by 2020, with about 7 million active drones flying over our skies. “We are charged with bringing a sense of order and discipline to this new and greatly expanding aviation culture,” the chief counsel said of the FAA.

While the new technologies offer many benefits, there are also safety concerns, with a growing number of drones in safety-related incidents with other aircrafts, including collisions. Also, use of such drones and their cameras have raised privacy concerns. And, there are worries that the technology could be used as part of terrorist attacks.

“It’s only the contributions from across the industry, economy and all levels of government that we will solve the complicated riddles posed by unmanned aircraft systems and other issues confronting us in this new area of innovation.” Trippe told the audience of fellow attorneys.

To regulate effectively in this day and age, the FAA must listen to and learn from the people who are working in the field, Trippe said. “By continuing to listen to each other and work together, the FAA and its industry partners can maintain strong communications and a mutual respect that is necessary to keep aviation safe and efficient.”

Trippe said he calls this “regulatory humility.”

“I think it is an apt description – one which should help bring our approach to regulation in this time of innovation and rapid change. He urged audience members to “consider your role in aviation with this in mind.”