Michael Huerta has his hands full. The head of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration administrator, speaking to a Wichita, Kansas, audience recently, ticked off a series of major issues facing his agency.

“I believe that we are at an historical time in the aviation industry,” Huerta said. “We’re making a lot of decisions that will shape the next 50 years.”

ADS-B: The Deadline’s Set

Huerta said ADS-B – automatic dependent surveillance broadcast, the next-generation system that will replace radar-based air traffic control – represents a major step forward. The question he’s asked most often is whether the government will delay its Jan. 1, 2020, deadline for including ADS-B equipment on most U.S.-based aircraft. “The answer is no – it won’t be extended. The deadline is real.” Operators in Europe currently face a mid-2020 deadline.

Airline Arrival, Departure Management

Huerta said another new system is beginning to deliver much more efficient management of commercial aircraft arrivals and departures. The new technology, still being rolled out around the country, replaces outdated terminal radar approach control equipment and will enable more direct routing of airline flights, thus resulting in fuel savings. The first systems already are saving the equivalent of 3 million gallons of jet fuel a year in Houston and nearly 4 million gallons in Dallas.

Certification: From Black-and-White to Gray

Another major initiative, Huerta said, is the FAA’s wholesale rewrite of the regulations governing new aircraft certification. The FAA realizes that the process has become bogged down and outdated after many years of accumulated slow changes in response to rapid innovation on the part of manufacturers.

“Instead of being prescriptive, we need to be performance-based to provide room for flexibility and innovation in the marketplace.”

Aviation has always been about managing risk, he said. The FAA, in contrast, has always been about developing standards and ensuring that those standards are met. “It’s easy to be a cop in a black-and-white regulatory environment.” But aviation risk is not black and white. That’s why the FAA’s new approach will be to “interpret shades of gray.”

Pelton: A True Leader

Huerta comes across as straightforward and personable, an impression confirmed by Jack Pelton, former Cessna CEO and current board chairman for the Experimental Aircraft Association, in his introduction. After running through Huerta’s long, detailed and impressive resume, Pelton said the two have been close friends for years. Then he delivered his true endorsement. “(Huerta) is an authentic leader and a wonderfully genuine person.”

This column ran in the May 28 issue of BlueSky Business Aviation News.