On Aug. 31, 2000, the Federal Labor Relations Authority certified NATCA as the exclusive bargaining representative of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Airports Division (ARP) employees. ARP employees manage the $3.2 billion Airport Improvement Grant Program (AIP) and the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) Program.
NATCA’s National ARP Rep Brad Davidson is based in the Detroit Airports District Office (ADO) and is a licensed professional engineer. Over the last 15 years, he has primarily filled the role of environmental protection specialist, but has also had responsibilities of community planner, program manager, and passenger facility charge specialist. Davidson answered questions about ARP members’ role in keeping the National Airspace System (NAS) safe and efficient.
Q: What do Airports Division bargaining unit employees do? Is it one set of tasks, or a variety of activities?
Davidson: Airports Division is made up of a variety of aviation professionals that include program managers, community planners, environmental protection specialists, airport certification inspectors, attorneys, financial experts, compliance specialists, engineers, and pilots. There are many bargaining unit employees who are former airport managers, and former airport operations managers, as well as public relations practitioners, and program specialists. There is great diversity in the backgrounds of our unit’s employees.
Consistent with all FAA employees, our main goal is to ensure the safety of the flying public. We accomplish this with two primary programs: the federal grant AIP and our Airport Certification Program (Part 139). In order to accomplish these programs successfully, there are a multitude of tasks and activities that are fulfilled on a daily basis.
AIP grant funds are primarily used to improve and maintain airport infrastructure including runways, taxiways, aprons, terminals, and critical safety areas. The Airports Division is also responsible for the accuracy of all of the geometric design standards at the airports across the country and we publish, maintain, and update the Airports Design Advisory Circular.
Our Part 139 program ensures our commercial service airports are maintained and operated in a safe and efficient manner.
Q: What does your typical day look like?
Davidson: Each employee in Airports Division comes to work each day with a well-planned set of activities to accomplish for the day. However, our Airports Division activities requires each of us to be able to quickly adjust and adapt our schedule to meet the unforeseen needs of the public airports we oversee. The Airports Division is often referred to as the face of the FAA to the public and to airport owners. As such, we respond to a multitude of daily inquiries that include concerns of the public for noise, air pollution, and even flight tracks. This is why every Airports employee is required to have a comprehensive understanding of the entire aviation system including what our brothers and sisters are doing in air traffic and the other lines of business within the FAA.
We also are very close to national and local political interests that relate to airport development. It is routine for Airports Division field employees to brief our counterparts in FAA regional offices and at FAA headquarters on our local projects and priorities so they can, in turn, be relayed directly to Congress.
ARP employees approve and oversee all construction projects at the airports across the nation. For this reason, we must be prepared to answer critical design and build questions on a daily basis to keep the airports and contractors moving forward with improvement projects.
Q: What training or education enables Airports Division employees to do their jobs?
Davidson: The success of the Airports Division is based on each of the employees across the nation. These employees have a wide variety of individual disciplines, educational backgrounds, and professional experience. It doesn’t serve the FAA or the flying public to have too much concentration of expertise in any one discipline. The professional diversity of ARP employees is what makes the teamwork atmosphere in Airports Division successful.
Other than our specific FAA training courses or our personal educational backgrounds, the ability for each employee in Airports Division to multitask and switch from one activity to another without hesitation is key to our individual and collective success.
Q: What most surprises others about the role of Airports Division employees?
Davidson: People are often surprised to learn the broadness of our responsibilities. Airports Division is responsible for the infrastructure at all of the public use airports across the nation. We are responsible not only for ensuring that pavements are in safe working order, but also for ensuring proper safety margins and the geometry of an airport. Additionally, we make sure the approach surfaces to runways are clear of obstructions. We do this by preventing the erection of structures within any critical design surfaces of an airport, and we also remove obstructions like trees that present themselves as safety concerns. We make sure that airports are actively addressing hazardous wildlife on or near their airports. We address noise pollution and work with airports and the surrounding communities to reduce the number of people impacted by noise.
Q: With more than 19,000 airports in the U.S., how do you decide which ones get grants, technology, or improvements first? How are passenger fees — like PFCs — determined?
Davidson: Each airport that participates in the federal grant in aid Airport Improvement Program receives federal funds from the aviation trust fund on an annual basis. These funds are referred to as entitlement funds and can be used for each airport’s eligible improvement project. In addition to the entitlement funds each airport receives, there are additional state apportionment and/or discretionary funds available to assist airports with large costly projects. Each airport that proposes projects that cost more then their allotted entitlement funding competes on a state, regional, or national basis for additional funding. Our employees in Airports Division prioritize these competing projects based on safety, capacity, geometric improvements, pavement preservations, and the overall impact and benefit to the NAS.
Q: How are Airports Division employees organized?
Davidson: Generally ARP is subdivided into three separate geographic locations. These locations are at our 21 Airports District Offices (ADOs) and are overseen by our six Regional Offices. We also have three consolidated regional offices that function as both the Airports District Office and the Regional Office at the same time. Our Regional Offices report directly to FAA headquarters in Washington, D.C. The Airport District Offices have direct day-to-day contact and oversight of each individual public use airport and therefore generally have the largest staff sizes. Our Regional Offices provide guidance and oversight to the ADOs and manage overall programs for each region of the country. Our Part 139 airport certification inspectors and our financial experts are also co-located in the Regional Offices. Headquarters is responsible for overall policy, guidance, long range planning, and direct interactions with congress.
Q: What would you recommend for a young person who is interested in pursuing your line of work?
Davidson: Anyone who ultimately will be successful in ARP will need a broad understanding of the entire aviation system we oversee at the FAA. I believe I would have greatly benefited from ground school, as this would have provided an excellent perspective of a pilot, what they face, and how we can better design airports to meet their needs. Because there is direct contact with the airport owners, public citizens, attorneys, media, and politicians, each ARP employee must be personable, professional, educated, honest, and accurate.
Q: What guides Airports Division’s work? Do you or other ARP NATCA members take part in these efforts? How?
Davidson: The FAA’s ARP business plan includes goals to encourage global adoption of U.S. safety standards and best practices. It’s assembled each year through a collaborative effort between ARP employees and FAA management. Some of the goals are associated with outreach and global leadership. Efforts to meet these goals are through a variety of participants including ARP employees who are considered subject matter experts, as well as our management counterparts.
Q: What’s the most important part of what you do?
Davidson: My most important role in ARP has been as the NATCA national representative. This role is clearly larger than myself and my contributions impact all of our members and bargaining unit employees. I take this role very seriously and with great pride representing all of the hard working employees in ARP.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge Airports Division faces now?
Davidson: The biggest problem is the stop-and-go funding of the FAA. This impacts ARP employees from headquarters all the way down, year after year. When funding is extended instead of passed in a full funding bill, the resulting multiple grant cycles result in more work for ARP employees. Fewer projects are completed when we cannot predict timing or amounts of Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants. Additionally, project costs increase because contractors need to hold bids for unpredictable amounts of time. This means the FAA ends up spending more to accomplish fewer projects. Projects get postponed, and deteriorating airports face additional years of wear and tear and weathering. Costs go up because projects move from rehabilitation to complete reconstruction.