Tony Broderick talks on politics, safety and the need for a new funding regime.

Paul Phelan/CAIRNS

TONY BRODERICK understands better than most the perils which political intervention can put in the path of effective aviation-safety oversight.

After nearly two decades at the US Federal Aviation Association, latterly as Associate Administrator for Regulation and Certification, his resignation came on the back of the wave of politically driven events which followed the Valujet crash in Florida on 11 May.

"One of the most important aspects of safety regulation, is having the confidence of the public, who benefit from the regulations - that it is good and effective regulation," says Broderick, speaking during a recent visit to Australia, where he is passing on some of the lessons learned in the USA, as the country re-aligns its own regulatory regime.

Broderick suggests that public confidence has been seriously undermined in the case of the ValuJet incident, by the immediate presence of US Transportation secretary Federico Pena at the crash site and his subsequent public pronouncements based on discussions with relatively junior FAA staff.

Pressure then grew to come up with a quick decision on whether ValuJet should continue to fly. What had been a fairly routine series of discussions between regulator and airline escalated into a team of 50 inspectors crawling over the carrier for four weeks. Eventually it was decided to ground ValuJet, but Broderick admits that without the "enormous" glare of publicity, the outcome would "-probably have been different".

That appeared to contradict earlier opinions that ValuJet was "safe", and there were pressures for change within the FAA. Broderick chose to resign to allow the Administrator "maximum flexibility" to make those changes. The final irony is that the apparent cause of the crash (the explosion of gas canisters wrongly labelled by the shipper) was not even an FAA issue, but one regulated by the Department of Transportation.

The ValuJet example highlights Broderick's message about the need for FAA safety oversight functions to be better insulated from political influences if the public is to be re-assured. "When you get someone at the political level of Secretary of Transportation making himself or herself available at these accident sites, the professionals are no longer in control," he says.

Pena's notable absence from the subsequent TWA crash suggests that something may already have been learned about the need to separate politics and technical affairs. There, the National Transportation Safety Board and the FBI have been left in charge of the investigation.

Funding is one of the areas which Broderick identifies as critical in restoring confidence and helping to define the boundaries between the roles of politician and regulatory professional.

"The business that doesn't plan a few years ahead, looking to its revenue stream and its cost structure, is a business that's going to fail," he says, pointing out that the FAA has no ability to predict in any year what resources will be available for aviation safety, certification, or air traffic control (ATC) modernisation programmes. "They can't do that essential long-range programming. There is a desperate need for a stable and predictable source of funding," he adds.

Broderick also insists that effective safety regulation must no longer be forced to compete for revenue with other civil-aviation functions. He is confident that, given due transparency, the travelling public would be more cost-tolerant than airlines appear to believe. Transparency, he proposes, can be achieved simply by printing the safety-regulation cost component on the ticket.

"It's very important to focus on this, because people ought to know what they're paying. It doesn't cost the Government or the airline anything; it costs the people that buy the ticket or who ship the goods," he says. "We talk in the aviation industry about a huge cost for a specific regulatory programme or rule, but when you explain to the traveller that this horrible cost is going to be ¢4.8 a ticket, they'll want it done without even thinking about it," Broderick says, citing ageing-aircraft initiatives, child-restraint proposals, and security programmes as the only measures that have ever cost more than a few pennies per ticket.

"One of the things that needs to be understood by the aviation industry and people in Government who oversee the regulator, is that the public is willing to pay even more than a conventional benefit cost-analysis might say is appropriate. We as safety regulators need to realise that, and maybe change our thinking a bit," he says.

He believes that how the funds are raised, such as the current debate over fuel and ticket taxes, is less important than the process by which, a decision is reached. While he agrees that there should be full industry consultation, the final decision should be made by accountants and not by politicians. Any funding system must be flexible enough to accommodate industry change, but must be sufficiently predictable to avoid burdening the airline business with sudden and costly changes in direction.

He argues that the biggest problems with any tax system can come when efforts are made to change it, because of the upheavals that such a change can cause in the competitive balance between companies.

Finally, Broderick says that the general-aviation (GA) community, should not be burdened with paying what some might argue are its full share of costs.

He points out that GA operators are using an existing ATC system and bring their own contribution to the US aviation industry in the form of a pool of pilots, technology and expertise.

Source: Flight International