The Babbitt Blunder

Most of us in aviation are aware of FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt’s arrest this past weekend on drunk driving charges. Babbitt has been placed on administrative leave while FAA and DOT officials try to figure out what to do.

I have mixed feelings about the issue. At first I didn’t think it was worth posting. After all, I detest when people take pleasure in seeing others fall from grace. To me, this wasn’t news. Babbitt had too many drinks and got behind the wheel of his car. It was a bad choice. Luckily he didn’t hurt himself or anyone else, and was arrested before he could do so. He should be subject to the same consequences any FAA employee would face under the same circumstances.

Maybe I am wrong, but I don’t think the FAA would fire an employee for getting a DUI. Drinking is legal. If an FAA employee is drinking after hours or on the weekend, there is nothing wrong so long as no laws are broken. If he or she breaks the law, they should be subject to the consequences.

A friend called me last night wandering why I hadn’t posted anything about the incident. “He is the FAA Administrator for crying out loud,” he said. “He is a pilot. This will affect his pilot’s certificate. He can’t be the FAA Administrator if his certificate is suspended or revoked.”

Not true. Although Babbitt is a certificated pilot (he flew for Eastern Airlines for 25 years), there is no requirement that the Administrator be a certificated airman (pilot, mechanic or otherwise). Deputy Administrator Michael Huerta (acting Administrator during Babbitt’s leave of absence) is not a certificated airman. Does that mean he can’t do the job? I don’t think so.

The problem lies in politics and business. You see the FAA is part of the Department of Transportation. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood (Babbitt’s boss) has aggressively campaigned against drunk driving. In a blog post this past January where he was talking about technology that detects blood alcohol content in drunk drivers and prevents them from operating their vehicles LaHood said, “DOT and its safety partners like MADD have made significant progress toward keeping our roadways safe from drunk drivers. Because of strong laws, consistent enforcement, and increasing public awareness, drunk driving-related fatalities have declined by more than 40 percent during the last three decades -- and by 20 percent during the last three years.

But when almost 11,000 people die in alcohol-related crashes every year -- the equivalent of one drunk driving death every 48 minutes -- our work is far from done.”

So although the incident this past weekend may appear to be a personal problem that has nothing to do with Babbitt’s ability to do his job, his drunk driving arrest flies in the face of what his boss stands for. And that is what may end up costing him his job.