Aviation and general news media have had their day with former FAA Administrator Babbitt’s situation. I was tempted to post something but thought to rather wait and let thoughts sink in.
And perhaps foremost, Babbitt was arrested on a DWI, and that is not the same as a conviction. Let’s be nice enough to give Babbitt more respect here than he did of those who made errors while he was in charge (he repeatedly issued slanderous condemnations of “unprofessional” activities like overscheduled and later-exonerated ATC personnel falling victim to human nature in the form of fatigue). So we’ll kindly give the benefit of doubt until the court date in February (and despite the police news release saying he “was under the influence of alcohol”).
So, let’s see, you’re the head of a majorly influential US gov’t component, making tons of money, with lots of respect, responsibility, and perks, with many worthwhile goals ahead of you to enhance what has been your profession. You’ve simply made the mistake of being caught driving on the wrong side of the road and were not intoxicated. Wouldn’t you stay on the job to fight the accusation? Why give it all up so quickly if not guilty? Hm.
Is how the news just kind of slipped by in the national stream of consciousness. I was at a heliport in Baltimore when I saw what looked like (and turned out to be) his mug shot on the tv with some slick-haired announcer saying something (sound off, as colleague was calling for an IFR clearance). Whoa! I thought, there’s some big news, I was stunned.
Later, hearing the details, I thought how could a former pilot of his stature and position make such a huge, humungous mistake? I want to hear how he explains it. But in a flash it was out of the major news.
Only days later, a look at the FAA web site and you would think things are just normal, hunky-dory happy everything with Santa being tracked and good programs going on.
But Wait… The relatively popular leader of this organization, about the highest-ranking pilot there is, just resigned after being arrested for DWI! It’s still hard to believe that he could be guilty, and why would a person give up such a high position if not; and if so, how he could make that mistake? have we misjudged his character? How could he dare inflict this injury on the entire class of commercial pilots with such actions? DWI arrests and convictions make all pilots look bad.
It just kind of amazing. The FAA Administrator is not a ‘normal person’. They have huge responsibilities and spend years of intense effort to reach such a pinnacle. How could a person so quickly ditch the job? Certainly there must have been some quick behind the scenes negotiations and he has a nice retirement plan. Not so lucky are ordinary aviation people in the same situation.
What’s right, maybe
If guilty, resigning was ethically the right thing to do, and the timing, politically, was ok. What’s missing is the mea culpa. It appears he’s admitted guilt, by resigning, but has not apologized to the countless professionals who abide by alcohol consumption rules. He owes a statement of what the true circumstances are. Aviation depends on trust among humans. He owes an explanation of how he has violated that trust and an apology for not living up to the standards he, as Administrator, would hold us to.
If not guilty, he should have fought it. IMHO. FAA needs a pilot in command.
In the blogosphere
- City of Fairfax VA news release on Babbitt’s DWI arrest
- Babbitt’s official statement
- Paul Bertorelli at AvWeb, speechless
- “Mistakes will be made” by Jamie Beckett, on tolerance, in General Aviation News
Where is the equal-treatment knee-jerk condemnation by DOT of the “unprofessionalism” of arguably the most influential pilot in the world bringing shame on all working pilots by possibly, and TBD driving while impaired, or at a minimum, continuing to drive on the wrong way on a highway (why not stop and turn around even if not DWI?). They haven’t waited for investigations to finish before labeling their employees as unprofessional.
We’ll find out the end of the story in February when he has his court date but in the meanwhile he’s left thousands of people, from pilots to FAA employees and others in shock and without a leader or explanation at a time when we really need one.
Perhaps the explanation will come some time in March when it becomes clear he has plead guilty, got his FAA pension, and gone on to some high-paying civilian job. Yeah, here in the US we really know how to reward failure.
Still, for the benefit of all, let’s hope that the FAA organization continues to march and the transition to a new leader is seamless. And that the FAA finally gets a real budget from Congress.
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