The Federal Aviation Administration finally got a break. The acting administrator for the last year, Michael Huerta, was confirmed by the Senate to a five-year term to run the agency last week. His nomination finally cleared when Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., lifted his objection to the nomination. (DeMint now heads the conservative Heritage Foundation.)
By all accounts, Huerta is more than qualified for the job. He has been at the FAA since 2010 and has served previous stints at major ports in New York City and San Francisco. He replaces former FAA administrator Randy Babbitt, who resigned after a drunken driving arrest a year ago. Babbitt's demise was the perfect, if ironic, complement to the years of uncertainty in the aviation community over a long-stalled FAA bill that finally passed last year.
Now it's time to think about the FAA's next steps, and they are big-time high-tech. Huerta will be charged with overseeing the transition to GPS-based air traffic control system from the current radar-based system. He also must integrate unmanned aerial systems into the national airspace, which carries with it a host of delicate issues about privacy and aviation markets. Technology enthusiast Mitch Joel says unmanned aircraft are "the dawn of a new industry." Not too much pressure, there.
Let's not forget the day-to-day funding of the FAA, which could be on the chopping block by some 8 percent if lawmakers don't reach a deal on the automatic spending cuts in the next two months.
Still, the outlook for the FAA is better than it has been in years with the aviation bill and a confirmed leader in place. How can the agency take advantage of the limited breather it has before the next crisis comes along? What are the most important actions the agency should take? How can NextGen air traffic control best be spurred along? What should the FAA do about unmanned aerial systems? Are there other issues that could trip up the agency? What advice do you have for Huerta as he begins his term in earnest?