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Regulations and International Affairs

by David York

HAI Salutes a Great Team: Nick Sabatini and Jim Ballough


n 2001, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) added a potent one-two punch combination to its Headquarters team. Nicolas Sabatini was appointed to the position of Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, while James Ballough assumed the position of Director of Flight Standards Services. Since that time, this dynamic duo has accomplished much at the FAA, which has benefitted aviation safety in general, and the helicopter industry in particular. Working together seamlessly and providing refreshing leadership, Sabatini and Ballough have launched major internal organizational change within the FAA, taking industry partnership to new levels. They have enthusiastically encouraged and facilitated the introduction of new technology in aviation that will benefit us all in terms of increased safety and operational efficiency. And most importantly, from HAI's perspective, neither of them has ever forgotten their roots in the field or in the world of helicopters. In mid-October, Nick Sabatini announced he would retire in January 2009. Shortly afterward, Jim Ballough announced that he also planned to retire at the end of the year. The two of them came in as a team and planned on leaving the same way. At HAI, we were saddened by the thought of them leaving. It has been a pleasure having someone in the

James Ballough

Nicolas Sabatini

highest echelons of the FAA who understands helicopters, and it has been a pleasure working with them. More recently, Nick Sabatini managed to convince Ballough to postpone his retirement, while he is recovering from pancreatic cancer, and to stay on in an advisory capacity to help during the transition period. But even though Jim's plans have changed, this is still a good opportunity to celebrate and acknowledge some of the outstanding things the team of Sabatini and Ballough has accomplished for the helicopter industry, for international aviation safety, and for the flying public during their twin tenure at FAA Headquarters. Nick Sabatini and Jim Ballough made aviation safety their personal missions in life. They both recognize that there is still a lot of work to do -- that safety is a never ending mission.

When they leave the FAA, they can be confident in the knowledge that their examples, their leadership, and the programs and policies they pioneered will live on in aviation safety.

Facing Big Jobs With a Wealth of Experience

In 2001, Nick Sabatini became the Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety (AVS-1). The job description for this post is daunting. The position carries with it the responsibility for overseeing a sprawling work force of 6,800 employees scattered between FAA Headquarters, nine regional offices, and more than 125 field offices around the world. AVS-1 is also responsible for the certification, production approval, and continued airworthiness of aircraft, and certification of pilots, mechanics, and others in safety related positions.


The Association Administrator for Aviation Safety is also responsible for certification of all operational and maintenance enterprises in domestic civil aviation, the development of regulations, civil flight operations, and the certification and safety oversight of some 7,300 U.S. airlines and commercial air carriers. While the list of responsibilities may sound a little overpowering, Nick did not come to the position unprepared. Knowing that Nick served in the U.S. Army, and that he flew helicopters for the New York City Police, I always assumed he had started out as an Army Pilot. That was not the case at all. Most of his two-year stint with the Army was spent at Fort Knox, where heavy armor is king. It was not until he became a New York City police officer that he was "smitten" with aviation and helicopters. Early on, after joining the New York City Police, Nick set his sights on joining the aviation unit, and went about getting the training and ratings he needed. For the last 11 of his 20 years with NYPD, he served as a pilot. Along the way he also flew part time for a commuter carrier. After retiring from the police department, he worked for two years flying drug interdiction missions for U.S. Customs. He loved the flying but did not like being away from his children so much. However, he loved aviation too much to leave it behind. He joined the FAA in 1979. Over the next twenty years, in the FAA's Eastern Region, Sabatini served in a variety of field and management positions, ranging from aviation safety inspector and principal operations inspector, to an 11- year stint as manager of the Flight Standards Division in the FAA's Eastern Region. There is no question about it; Sabatini has a wealth of experience -- as a pilot, and a manager -- in the industry and in the field. In 2001, Jim Ballough also faced his own daunting job description when he assumed the position of Director of Flight Standards Services. When Nick Sabatini was initially offered the position of Associate Administrator, he accepted on the condition that he would be able to take his own team

with him to Washington D.C. Sabatini told me, "Number One on my list was Jim Ballough." At Flight Standards, Ballough would head up an organization of 4,800 employees, and be responsible for promoting the safety of civil aircraft by setting regulations and standards for air carriers, air agencies, general aviation, airmen and designee. He would also be responsible for the certification, inspection, surveillance, investigation, and enforcement of the Federal Aviation Regulations. A big job! But like Sabatini, Ballough had been well prepared with wide ranging experience in the industry, and in the field for the FAA. After getting his A&P certificate, while the Vietnam War was still underway, Jim enlisted in U.S. Army aviation. He was initially assigned an avionics Military Occupation Specialty (MOS), but when the Army discovered he held an A&P certificate, they put him to work on UH-1s, primarily Cobras, from a ship off the Vietnam shore. Following his honorable discharge, he worked in

a variety of airworthiness positions with a major air carrier, and joined the FAA in August 1986. There he served in a variety of field positions -- as a principal avionics inspector, and principal maintenance inspector -- before going to the FAA's Eastern Region where he served as technical branch manager, assistant division manager, and regional division manager. He, too, was well prepared for his new job.

Different Leaders With the Same Message

As HAI's VP for Regulations and International Affairs, I have had the opportunity to see Nick and Jim at work in their current positions, in two distinctly different venues -- the international arena of conferences and forums where they deal with global aviation issues, and the regulatory arena where the focus has been on helicopter-specific issues. I have always been impressed with the way that they are always totally "in-sync." In both of these venues, whether they are speaking from a podium

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at an international forum, or over the conference table at a meeting with operators at HAI, Sabatini and Ballough are consistently singing from the same sheet of music, always carrying the same message, and always focusing on the same priorities. They present an impressive and constant example of seamless teamwork, and apparently, it has been like that from the beginning. Jim Ballough, looking back to January 1999 when he became Nick's deputy at Eastern Region, noted that, "Early on, during that time, we just started clicking. My background was maintenance. His was operations. Nonetheless we were always on the same page. The chemistry has been there from day one. When he asked me to join him in Washington D.C., I didn't hesitate." The people who work with Nick and Jim, however, are quick to point out that even though, in public, the

Harris, manager of the FAA Accident "It is incredibly refreshing to FAA Investigation Division, and former employees, and I think of great value manager of the Part 135 air carrier branch, The FAA's increased reliance on characterizes Sabatini as partnership with the aviation industry, "a visionary since Nick and Jim have come to town, is leader who can articulate a big probably the single most significant legacy picture plan for they will leave behind them." where he sees the organization Matt Zuccaro, President of HAI going." He described Jim Ballough as "a very personal, look-you-in-theto the industry, that both Nick and Jim eye leader who challenges you to get bring their own field experience, and things done. Jim will look you in the experience in industry to the table." eye and ask, can you do this? And if Jim Ballough himself agrees you say "Yes," he trusts you to go out with that assessment. "Real world and get it done." experience is probably my biggest Dennis Pratte, the current strong point. I never forgot where manager of AFS-250, thinks that I came from and that was field the accessibility of Sabatini and inspector." Ballough has also contributed A Legacy of Partnership greatly to their Whether it is a matter of "vision," or effectiveness, personal style and the ability to get noting that, "They things done, the leadership of Sabatini get people at the and Ballough has paid off in some FAA and industry major and very positive initiatives at the FAA. to talk to them In the opinion of HAI President about the issues." Matt Zuccaro, "The FAA's increased It hasn't always reliance on partnership with the been that way at aviation industry, since Nick and Jim the FAA. have come to town, is probably the Regardless of single most significant legacy they will any differences leave behind them. That increased there may be in level of cooperation has created a solid their leadership foundation for future improvements in styles, everyone aviation safety." I talked to at the Zuccaro and Sabatini have known FAA agreed with each other for 30 years. When Harris, Pratte, and Nick was flying helicopters for U.S. Larry Buehler, a Customs, Matt was flying for the senior flight safety New York Port Authority and they inspector with Nick Sabatini admits that he is "partial to helicopters," but has frequented the same New York City AFS-250, when been too busy to maintain currency. Here he demonstrates the airports and heliports. Sabatini even they insist that handheld rotor launcher that he keeps on his desk. (It was not invited Zuccaro to fly with Customs, one important FAA certificated. It crashed immediately into a book case.) and if it were not for a federal agency leadership trait hiring freeze, it might have happened. the two have in two definitely march in total lock According to Zuccaro, "Even back common is the ability to generate step when presenting and promoting then, in the FAA Eastern Region, Nick personal loyalty from the people with FAA initiatives, they are viewed, was already sowing the seeds of a new whom they work, and that loyalty is internally at the FAA, as two distinctly not based on their positions, but rather cooperative spirit between FAA and different leaders, each with his own due to their leadership abilities. There industry to find safety solutions. Since unique leadership style. Hooper (Continued on page 24) is also the fact that, as Harris puts it,




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(Continued from page 22)

he came to Washington, he has done the same thing on a larger scale. And it has benefited all of us, including the travelling public and the helicopter industry." Sabatini does not disagree with the assessment. He said, "I like to think of partnership in terms of working together with industry because when people work together the solutions are the best solutions. Many minds working together solve problems. It is not just a nice thing to do; it is the best way to serve the public and to reach the highest level of safety performance." As evidence of that success, he points to all the safety data that has become available to the FAA through its partnership with industry via its non-punitive safety reporting programs. "Here at the FAA, we collect a great deal of safety data, but the amount of data we collect on our own is miniscule in comparison to the amount of data we collect through our safety programs from industry. And the public benefits -- improved reliability, better crew training, and ground proximity warning systems. Today, we can't wait for the next accident to let us know what needs fixing. It takes a constant flow of data and communication to identify the future risks. That is why these programs are so important."

Partnership Benefits Helicopter Safety Too

Towards the end of my interview with Nick Sabatini, he admitted, "I have never told anyone this, but when I hit the Lotto, I am going to buy an S-76 or Jet Ranger or something with that kind of capability, and fly from place to place. I'm a little partial to helicopters." Whether it was because he is "partial to helicopters" or not, the spirit of partnership with industry fostered by Nick Sabatini and Jim Ballough over the past seven years has directly benefitted the helicopter industry. As Ballough puts it, "We worked from day one to establish rapport and develop a relationship with industry. We can't do it alone. A big part of the safety equation is partnering and working with industry. That doesn't mean abdicating enforcement of the Federal Aviation Regulations but it does mean coming together for common goals. I think we have done that successfully." He points in particular to one of his early outreach efforts with the helicopter community -- the Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) Task Force established within the FAA, in 2004, to look for ways to reduce accidents in helicopter emergency medical system operations. "We focused on a problem. We established the HEMS task force

and brought in HAI and medical industry groups and asked them to participate and work with us on solutions. It's easy to identify issues. The hard work is putting together solutions that will work. And we did that. And the accident rates showed improvement over the next couple of years." HAI certainly welcomed the FAA's invitation to participate in the HEMs Task Force, and we have worked extensively with Jim Ballough, Hooper Harris, Larry Buehler and more recently, Dennis Pratte, to enhance safety. That cooperative effort paid off with many initiatives, such as new guidance on loss of control, and controlled flight into terrain avoidance programs, crew resource management, new weather requirements for night and mountainous terrain, and a new online weather tool for EMS operations. The process also gave us an opportunity to refine and promote voluntary industry best practices on risk assessment and other safety mitigations. The cooperative relationship that began with the HEMs Task force is still ongoing. Over the past few months, HAI has hosted repeated operator meetings to continue working with the FAA to make safety improvements in the operating specifications for HEMS operations. As Larry Buehler pointed out, "Jim Ballough has also been something of a visionary himself when it comes to helicopters." Buehler referred to a recent policy change in the criteria for hiring FAA inspectors. Prior to this change, all prospective FAA inspectors had to demonstrate proficiency in fixed wing operations. Ballough helped change that policy to allow the hiring of helicopter-only inspectors. He also played a lead role in the establishment of the Part 135, Commuter, On Demand and Training Center Branch (AFS-250), which promises to provide a lasting focal point for helicopter expertise within the FAA. Dennis Pratte also credits Ballough for being a very proactive force in recent efforts to facilitate the increased use of night vision goggles in EMS operations. Still another prime example of

(Continued on page 26)







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management standard. This was no to acknowledge that report, and to how the Sabatini/Ballough focus on small accomplishment! It made the respond to those recommendations partnership is benefitting helicopter FAA Safety Organization the first within five days." Both Sabatini and safety is the International Helicopter organization of its size and scope in Ballough acknowledge that culture Safety Team (IHST). This ambitious the world to achieve ISO certification change is a long, never-ending program, initiated by the American under a single corporate management process, but they insist that this Helicopter Society and HAI, along system. new quality management system is with other industry groups, was What does it all mean? According starting to make a difference, and launched with the goal of reducing to Sabatini, "It means that AVS, that it will establish a firm basis for helicopter accidents worldwide by 80 despite all its diversity and widespread Safety Management Systems, resulting percent over a ten year period. Matt operations, is now operating under a in continuous improvement in Zuccaro admits, "Launching this single quality management system." consistency. effort would not have been possible without Progress on the encouragement Other Fronts: Launching this effort [the International and support Nick and Promoting Technology Helicopter Safety Team] would not have and International Jim have provided in terms of manpower Leadership been possible without the encouragement and and expertise from the Over the past seven support Nick and Jim have provided in terms of years, Nick Sabatini and FAA." Nick Sabatini returns Jim Ballough have also manpower and expertise from the FAA." the compliment by demonstrated leadership Matt Zuccaro, President of HAI on many other fronts, saying, "I absolutely commend HAI and Matt aside from partnership Zuccaro for taking on and organizational that challenge -- an change. 80 percent reduction in the accident They have used their leadership And why is it important? Sabatini rate -- because it is hard work, and skills to promote new technology in points to a book written by Professor it can only get done by industry and James Reasons -- "Managing the Risk aviation as a means of enhancing government working together." safety now and for generations of Organizational Accidents," which The FAA's support for the introduced the idea that organizations to come. For example, Sabatini IHST was recently reconfirmed in is personally very proud of the like the FAA could unwittingly be November, when the 2009­2013 leadership role his organization contributing to accidents by tolerating demonstrated on the development of FAA Flight Plan included an FAA behavior that is inconsistent and nonRequired Navigation Performance commitment to continue "Working standardized. (RNP) criteria. with the Helicopter Association Sabatini acknowledged, "The FAA Earlier, Hooper Harris had told International (HAI), to continue the has a reputation that you can FSDO me that one of the things he always development and implementation of shop, or region shop -- go from one marveled at was Sabatini's enthusiasm. the International Helicopter Safety office to another -- until you get the Even though Nick has spent decades Team recommendations." answers you want. We are not going in aviation, Harris noted that, "He still "Nick and Jim have provided to continue down that path. There is the IHST with remarkable levels one AVS, one FAA, and we are going to has the enthusiasm and imagination pursue the most rigorous methodology of a 25 year-old." And that spark of support," said Zuccaro. "They really showed when I interviewed to ensure that all members of the have provided us very capable, Nick in preparation for this article and organization follow the same process. knowledgeable FAA staff to support At the FAA, that process is ISO 9001." brought up the subject of RNP. Nick's our IHST working groups at every eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. It was a massive undertaking level. The FAA and industry are "We put RNP on the map that took five years to implement working together." internationally with the work we across the full safety organization. Providing a Process for did here in AFS 400, under John Ballough took the lead in rolling McGraw (McGraw is the manager it out in Flight Standards. "But Constant Improvement While industry partnership is arguably now, under the ISO framework, of AFS 400, the Flight Technologies the signature legacy of Nick Sabatini's and Procedures Development). It all members of the organization tenure as Associate Administrator, is now International Civil Aviation follow the same process, and it is it is by no means the only one. In documented," says Sabatini. "Anyone Organization (ICAO) document 9663 late 2006 it was announced that AVS who identifies an inconsistency can -- a global standard totally based on had been certified by the prestigious submit a report -- online -- with their the work we did here." International Organization for recommendations. And you know He is also very proud of changes Standardization ISO 9001 quality what? I hold mangers accountable in the Federal Aviation regulations

(Continued from page 24)


which laid the groundwork to allow the development and use of enhanced and synthetic flight vision systems. "Since we made those changes, the flood gates have opened in terms of research and development on enhanced vision and synthetic vision, and they are fusing those technologies together with the benefits of RNP, and when that happens we increase safety. I would love to see those technologies merge into the helicopter community because it represents tremendous capability." Their enthusiasm for promoting the safety benefits offered by new technology has also been evident in Jim Ballough's leadership in facilitating the expanded acceptance and use of night vision goggles in helicopter operations. However, Ballough's and Sabatini's leadership internationally has not been confined to the realm of technology. It has been constant and across the board. They have both actively supported international outreach efforts through regular international forums to promote worldwide harmonization and safety through Safety Management Systems (SMS), international data sharing, and "industry partnership" on an international level. The slogan of their most recent international meeting, the FAA's Fifth Annual International Safety Forum, summed up their philosophy pretty well -- "One World, One Sky, One Mission: SAFETY." Together, over the past 7 years, Nick and Jim have been outstanding ambassadors for safety on the international stage.

Believing in the Mission and Doing What is Right

Larry Buehler was having lunch with co-workers in the FAA cafeteria when Jim Ballough pulled up a chair and joined them. He and Sabatini had recently undergone a grueling series of Congressional hearings, where they took a lot of personal heat about Southwest Airlines and their support for partnership with industry. At the time, they were also preparing for a round of hearings at the National Transportation Safety Board, where they expected to be subjected to

some measure of criticism for not implementing everything the NTSB has recommended on HEMS operations. Buehler asked Ballough, "How do you keep going in the face of criticism like this?" Ballough responded, "You just have to believe in the mission. You have to believe that you are doing the right thing." For seven years, Nick Sabatini and Jim Ballough, as a team, have done just that. Through it all, they have focused on one mission -- Safety. They have done what they thought was right. And because of their outstanding leadership -- two different styles maybe, but one mission always -- they have accomplished amazing things for aviation. "The proof is in the pudding," as Ballough puts it, pointing to the fact that we are currently in the midst of the safest period in the history of aviation. Nick Sabatini is quick to point out that he and Ballough cannot take the credit for that record level of safety alone. "We are surrounded by some of the brightest and best in the world, working with us here at the FAA," he says. "It is their accomplishment." That may well be, but one thing on which everyone at the FAA agrees is that, because of the leadership demonstrated by Ballough and Sabatini, the policies and programs they have nurtured at the FAA will live on long after they depart the agency. The people on the team they are leaving behind have taken personal ownership of those policies. "At HAI," says Matt Zuccaro, "We thank Nick Sabatini and Jim Ballough for their unwavering leadership and unrelenting focus on safety. They have done an outstanding job and left a legacy for the rest of us to strive towards. It has been my sincere privilege and honor to know these two extraordinary individuals." The Helicopter Association International Salutes Jim Ballough and Nick Sabatini for a job well done and a mission well started!

David York is Vice President of Regulations & International Affairs for HAI.

Winter 2008-2009 27


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