European Union Policy Studies

The Sky's the Limit!

George Vergara FAA

By George Vergara

When one of my closest EUPS friends commented, “George, why do you care about planes? Plane go up, plane go down. That’s it!”, it became personal for me. Yes, one might consider my plane passion a bit nerdy, but I couldn’t sit back and allow such blasphemous aviation slander to continue! That’s why I fought back by using the greatest weapon a young scholar has in his arsenal: research. I ultimately produced several pieces of international aviation-themed research during my EUPS year, including a symposium paper on airline competition. Who would’ve known how pivotal these works during my time at JMU would prove to be in my job hunt?

When I had the epiphany that I could land a career combining my EUPS background with my passion for aviation, in the field of “plane politics”, I didn’t hesitate to turn the concept into a reality. Today, I work in Washington, D.C. as an analyst for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA): the U.S. government agency serving as both the country’s aviation industry regulator and air navigation service provider (ANSP). Within the agency’s organizational layout, you’d find me in the Air Traffic Organization’s International Office, working primarily on both U.S.-EU air traffic harmonization initiatives and our agency’s oceanic airspace portfolio. While the Office of International Affairs handles policy and agreements, my office deals with the actual air traffic operation. I’m not an air traffic controller, so it’s been a bit overwhelming at times when trying to absorb information that most people obtain through years of experience.

On the oceanic portfolio, my efforts are primarily devoted to a program aiming to redefine air traffic control in the ocean by 2035. Since we are still in the relatively early planning stages, my duties have generally included SMART goal & milestone development, internal stakeholder analysis & outreach, and various strategic activities. However, once COVID-19 restrictions lift, the fun really begins. Since U.S. oceanic airspace, which covers a whopping 10% of the earth’s surface, borders countries ranging from New Zealand to Portugal, the program’s international implications are extensive. 

Doing international work in a field you’re passionate about is exciting. When it requires you to jet-set across the globe every few weeks, it’s downright incredible. Sadly, my official travel has been halted at the moment for obvious reasons. Don’t get me wrong, doing international work from my living room is enjoyable, but not quite as much. You can imagine my bitterness last week, when I woke up at 6AM for a committee meeting with EUROCONTROL that was originally scheduled to be held in Italy. Alas, my home-brewed Illy espresso shot that morning was the closest I got to Rome that day. While I do appreciate your condolences, I’m confident that we’ll conquer the COVID-19 crisis soon and I’ll be back in the skies, greedily collecting frequent flier miles. After all, ensuring that people across the globe can safely and happily go for a ride in those skies is what I do for a living.

Speaking of Europe, I was ecstatic when assigned to cover initiatives with EUROCONTROL, the EU’s unofficial ANSP. While I generally support joint implementation of key air traffic initiatives, such as ADS-B or TBO, our regional strategy is also on my portfolio. This is where I utilize my EUPS knowledgebase most often, since retired air traffic controllers generally aren’t too familiar with the various political loops and hoops that EUROCONTROL goes through with EU institutions. While these efforts are important, I’m still trying to emphasize that we should help Europeans redesign their fragmented airspace and effectively reduce all those delayed flights both to and from Florence. You’re welcome in advance!    

When I was a kid and my dad told me that I should find a career I’d enjoy, I didn’t think I would’ve found it this early in life. ‘Grateful’ doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel to have the opportunity to wake up each morning and genuinely enjoy what I do. Even though I’m still sipping my espresso in front of my laptop at home, and not in Rome, I couldn’t be happier to have a career path that combines aspects of my academic experience with my passion. I may not know what the future holds now, but I’m confident that the sky’s the limit! Who knows? If I play my cards right, I just might end up in Brussels or Paris one day as an FAA representative.

George Vergara graduated from JMU in 2018 with his B.A. in both Political Science and Italian, and was also a member of the Semester in Florence group in the Fall of 2016. After graduation, he returned to Florence and graduated from the EUPS program in 2019. George is hoping to one day serve as a FAA Senior Representative abroad, based in either of the three European posts in Brussels, Paris, or Warsaw, and see his EUPS experience come full circle as an American diplomat in Europe.

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Published: Monday, February 1, 2021

Last Updated: Monday, February 8, 2021

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