Flashback to June 1988: Q&A with FAA Administrator T. Allan McArtor

By David Harvey | June 8, 2017
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This photo originally appeared in the 1988 issue of R&WI

This photo originally appeared in the 1988 issue of R&WI

When T. Allan McArtor was sworn in as the FAA’s new administrator July 22, he came into the job at a critical time. He succeeded Donald Engen, who somewhat unexpectedly announced January 1987 that he was leaving the post.

As McArtor began his duties, capacity problems in the nation’s airspace system were making media headlines, generating a perception in the public’s mind that the system was unsafe. Congress was beginning work to reauthorize the Airport Improvement Program, and every industry group had a lobbyist petitioning congressmen to see things their way. Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole, who resigned shortly after appointing McArtor, was under fire from a good deal of industry for her involvement in the FAA, and many were — and still are — calling for the FAA’s separation from the Dept. of Transportation.


Into this scenario, McArtor was appointed administrator. He has both military and commercial aviation experience. A graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, he earned a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering and, from Arizona State University, a masters degree in engineering mechanics. In the Air Force, McArtor flew combat duty in Vietnam, received the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross fro heroism, and was a member of the Thunderbirds precision flying team.

Joining Federal Express in 1979, he held various positions in its aviation and technology divisions, serving last as SVP of Telecommunications. He was also chairman of the Dept. of Transportation’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee.


R&WI: Mr. McArtor, just to start off here: How much of a “helicopter person” are you?

Allan McArtor: I’ve never been type-rated in a helicopter and have never masqueraded as a helicopter pilot. I’ve flown in them, obviously. The up-and-down part’s OK, but I’ve never successfully hovered a helicopter — I’ve never had any training either. But am I a helicopter person? I sure am.

R&WI: Impact ’88 is being publicized as a big FAA initiative this year. What do you see its impact being in terms of rotary-wing activity?

McArtor: It is a program of emphasis, designed to accelerate modernization of airspace and, at the same time, recapture public confidence in aviation.

The things we’re considering here are a broad range of issues that certainly include helicopters and helicopter-type issues. I understand — and probably justifiably so — the helicopter community thinks it is the last one invited to the picnic, and that’s often true. Helicopters and business jets are somehow overlooked. We want to make sure we’re more responsive to both these sectors.

R&WI: Give us your impressions about where you think the relationship between the rotorcraft industry and the FAA is today Do you think it needs improving and if so, how?

McArtor: I think our relationship with any industry needs improving. We’re forming a new office, as a matter of fact, called Office for Industry and Government Affairs to — in part anyway — make ourselves more responsive to our “customers.”

What we’re trying to do is reconstitute a good, healthy advisory process by making a commitment to it. Because if you know the FAA really cares, people will participate. I think the relationship with the helicopter industry is better. People have tried to make it so. But there’s still a lot of work to do, and I’m not satisfied that we’re responsive in any segment of our industry as much as we ought to be.

R&WI: is the helicopter industry feeding back to you well enough?

McArtor: Yes, it is. But the helicopter industry itself is, I think, struggling to become organized as an aviation community. I would say I’ve been pretty impressed, frankly, by the work the national associations are doing on this…

R&WI: Last year you moved the Rotorcraft Master Plan out of the office of the Associate Administrator for Aviation Standards and put it into Policy and International. What were you hoping to achieve by doing that?

McArtor: Better responsiveness. Any organization is an experiment in management, so I try not to draw any organization char in ink. If you need to be more responsive by moving things around, do that. There’s no reason for any segment of our aviation community to feel that they’re not being adequately served by their government, so we’ll keep experimenting ‘til we find the right solution. I really see some improvement coming … but you can probably judge it better than I.

R&WI: The master plan itself is not exactly on everybody’s mind out there, though. What’s happening on the Rotorcraft Master Plan? Tell us what you think it should be doing as a document.

McArtor: I’m sure it might be important to people who need to point to an FAA master plan that has helicopters in it so that they can get a heliport built, and maybe it’s useful for that purpose.

But from my personal point of view? It doesn’t provide me with any information at all. I already know what we’re committed to doing in terms of helicopters: routes, IFR operations and so on. I have my own ide on a master plan, so I don’t know if it needs to be written up.

Maybe the best master plan would be simply a cover sheet that says, “Rotorcraft: a full player in the aviation community, which should be afforded the same facilities as anyone else and will not be intentionally excluded … signed T. Allan McArtor, etc., etc!” To me, that would be a great master plan!

R&WI: The master plan still talks about 25 major urban heliport systems by the year 2000. How long are you going to stick with this overly optimistic target?

McArtor: Well I honestly don’t know how long it takes to develop a heliport. Is it easier or harder to do? Are the public acceptance problems any different …? It certainly is going to require more commitment at the state and local authority level. I don’t see any big financial barriers to meeting the target. But year, you’re right. We’re running out of time.

R&WI: General aviation airports and, of course heliports, are as important to helicopter operators as the major hubs, and maybe more so. Can you comment on planned utilization of the Trust Fund beyond the major bugs for development of GA airports and helicopters? Is it a good investment, and will there by more money available over time?

McArtor: Substantial amounts of money go for what are called “emplanements,” and they’re controlled by a formula. And, yes, the money’s been concentrated in the bugs, which is where the people go.

It leaves us precious little money for airport-capacity improvement programs, new starts, new activities an so on I’m concerned about that because I want to increase the capacity of our system, not just make it look better with new passenger terminals and things like that. A lot of Airport Improvement Program projects don’t necessarily add to capacity.

Our system is just as reliant on the 6,000-foot runway or the heliport as it is on major airfields, because we’re going to be capacity-limited. We are going to have to rely on outlying fields for feeder operations, and you’re going to have to get a helicopter over there or high-speed rail. I’d go for helicopters for that mission.

R&WI: In a recent interview that you gave in Vertiflite magazine, you said that a specific rotorcraft/ATC system to exploit the uniqueness of helicopters was something you were considering. Could you elaborate on your thoughts?

McArtor: Yes. When an aircraft exhibits a specific operating characteristics, what you don’t want to do is force it into an ATC system that was designed for somebody else’s performance. So a 3-deg glideslope is not a particularly interesting glideslope for a helicopter pilot. We ought to allow a helicopter to do its thing. So we need precision approaches for rotorcraft, and we need to have a precision en-route, low-altitude structure using MLS.

We want to create this voice link via satellite, so someone flying out of reach of voice communications can still be in an IFR clearance environment an still be in contact with ATC. I want to make sure we don’t hamstring the performance of the industry.

R&WI: What’s happening with MLS right now?

McArtor: Well, we have some real and some perceived problems with MLS. We have some perceived problem sin that we knew we needed to put in more ILS to take care of current capacity problems, but it was billed so you had to choose up sides: ILS vs. MLS. That’s not the case. They coexist just fine.

And then, quite frankly, we have an embarrassment in that our contractors are over two years late in performing delivery of the systems, and that was hard to overcome when you’re out looking for support.

But MLS has an inherent advantage to it. We strongly feel that CAT I minimums instead of 200 feet can be 150 feet with an MLS, and we need to continue to develop a CAT II/III capability in the three-dimensional, dogleg approach profile.

R&WI: Last year was a big one for the idea of a civil tiltrotor. What, in your vie, needs to be done now to push this concept forward? What moves are being made?

McArtor: The thing is you can hang almost any fuselage you like on the wing. It’s really exciting. I’ll tell you what I do believe, because I’m anxious to see the CTR develop. We don’t need to spend money right now developing a lightweight passenger configuration. We need to go demonstrate the market in an area where only the tiltrotor can perform the transportation function.

I’d love to take 12 to 18 aircraft with passenger interiors, even though they might not be the optimum design, and take them up to the Northeast complex and run a demo business with the fleet up there. I think it would be terribly exiting.

R&WI: Would the FAA do that?

McArtor: No, no. This is just me talking, Allan McArtor, entrepreneur, engineer, aviator and all that. But then, once you’ve done that and developed it, we may surprise ourselves: it might produce some market we didn’t foresee.

But we should prove it first in the military interior and then come back once you’ve learned some of the facts and then develop a passenger version. We need to understand the composite technologies, electronics technology and so on. And I don’t’ want to hold up the development because we can’t figure out how to certify it.

R&WI: How do you feel about the question of pilot certification? Should tiltrotor pilots be certificated for fixed-wing or rotorcraft?

McArtor: Well, what do you want? What about somewhere in between? We don’t have to be bound by the ratings we have now. The whole idea of carrying a license in your wallet is to show you’re qualified in a particular aircraft, familiar with ATC and so on. So whatever it takes to do that, we’ll do it. We mustn’t restrict the things we’ve done in the past in order to prepare for the future. I repeat: The tiltrotor is a really exciting technology.

R&WI: I think some people are a bit frightened the bureaucracy won’t move fast enough to keep up with it.

McArtor: It is frightening. I wish the bureaucracy had the same thrust-to-weight ratio as the tiltrotor.

R&WI: One thing that continues to disturb us is reports that the FAA just doesn’t have its helicopter act together out in the field. Operators continually tell us about minor hassling, inconsistency in interpretation of the rules and constant reassigning of staff. Are you — up here at this level — aware of this happening?

McArtor: Yes, and it’s not unique to the helicopter industry. Heard it from the other aviation communities as well. We have a lot of improving to do.

It doesn’t surprise me that in the field, we’re either not as responsive or as well informed in helicopter operations as we probably should be. We just have to keep track of that. That’s where the associations are very useful to us. They can make us aware of these problem sand give us suggestions on what we can provide to our field inspectors to make them more aware of both the technology and the operations of the rotorcraft industry.

R&WI: An issue that raises the temperature these days is minimum equipment lists. Operators see relief for their single-engine ships, and manufacturers complain of delays for approval of their master lists. What message about AA intentions in this area can you give?

McArtor: Well, a canned answer for this is that we’re trying to get a fair equipment system that everyone can buy into.

We’re rewriting the minimum equipment list rules this year. We have to get good MEL rules. We have to understand what’s essential to flight, and we have to make it enforceable, and we have to be reasonable It disturbs me when people say there’s an inordinate delay getting rules out of the FAA, but it’s not a reflection of somebody bugging somebody. It’s more of a reflection of a lack of resources on our part to respond to what is a tightrope industry. We have helicopters everywhere right now doing lots of things, and the FAA has been sow to accommodate that growth.

R&WI: So what are you going to tell the industry?

McArtor: Well, I don’t blame people for getting mad. But you’ve got to step back and, “Look, what are the problems here? Is there anything I can do to make the FAA guy’s job easier in a different format, more data?” Try to wear the other guy’s hat for the moment.

R&WI: A lot of the problem is coming from people with single-engine helicopters. Some of them feel you’re trying to get rid of single-engine helicopters.

McArtor: I don’t think so, but I don’t think anyone would quarrel with the fact that the allowed conditions for a single-engine may have ot be different if we have a history of reliability and performance problems…

Quite frankly, the FAA should not have a rule that says all the equipment that is on the plane when you buy it is minimum essential. It’s a nutsy rule. If that’s the way it is, and that’s the way we interpret it, it’s crazy. It shouldn’t be that way, and we should change it …

R&WI: What to?

McArtor: To “what is the minimum equipment needed to safety of flight” for that particular mission. Whatever the mission is we ought to have a reasonable MEL. Then things are predictable.

R&WI: You recently implemented the regional heliport development coordinators program for heliport development. People like the idea and some have asked why it can’t be done in other areas, such as flight standards, where they have big problems getting though for a response from the system, or getting a consistent viewpoint.

McArtor: You mean like having a helicopter office in flight standards? I’ve talked about that. I’ve talked with Tony Broderick, associate administrator for Aviation Standards, about the wisdom of creating a GA office and a helicopter office just to assure more responsiveness. I want to be careful, though, that we don’t over-specialize our organization. It can sort of get out of hand quite quickly that way.

R&WI: The regional heliport development coordinators is a sort of outreach program, right? If that’ a good one and they like the idea, why couldn’t we get an outreach program going in terms of flight standards and other operations?

McArtor: Possibly, possibly. We’re open to ideas. If that’s something with some value added for us, and some persuasive argument can be made for it, by golly. we’ll do it. Now if you guys want to put some details around that idea … [laughs].

R&WI: Privatization. Where’s that going?

McArtor: Well everybody’s talking about it. The broader issue is: “Is the FAA in an organizational environment that allows it to do its mission properly?” Or is there a better organization environment, whether it’s separate from the Dept. of Transportation, or a government agency, or privatized, or partly, or not.

It usually settles down around funding personnel, and procurement. Any time you talk about restructuring the FAA, you have to address those issues. There’ll be a report out this spring, and we have a couple of committee on the Hill talking about it and Transportation Secretary James Burnley is committed to understanding the issues.

I don’t know what will come of it but I’m delighted people are talking about it.

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