January 2, 2007
The Bush administration won't have a chance to obscure the issue of aviation user fees in the president's upcoming budget submission to Congress. That's because AOPA took a preemptive strike, briefing key reporters in the nation's capital about how to find the secrets in the budget when it is made public on February 5.
"The administration is manufacturing an FAA 'funding crisis' in a smoke-and-mirrors attempt to divert attention away from the real issue - the need to address the problems that constrain capacity, efficiency, and new technology adoption," said AOPA President Phil Boyer.
"They are attempting an end-around of Congress to put the world's safest, most efficient, and largest air traffic control system into the hands of airline barons who've flown their own businesses into bankruptcy," Boyer said at the National Press Club on February 1.
And taking Congress out of the mix would be a very bad idea, according to Ken Mead, the former Department of Transportation inspector general who joined Boyer at the podium.
"You need the checks and balances of the U.S. Congress," said Mead. He recalled that Congress had shut down the microwave landing system and the previous attempt at modernization - the advanced automation system (AAS) - when it had spun out of control and gone well over budget.
"I had to testify more times than I can recall on AAS," said Mead, "and it is a fact that it was stopped in its tracks by the checks and balances of Congress."
Mead also did a careful analysis of future revenue to the aviation trust fund, based on projections in the president's budget from last year. Assuming a continuing contribution from the general fund to the FAA's budget, the FAA could more than double the amount of money spent on equipment and air traffic control modernization, yet still have a surplus left in the trust fund at the end of five years.
Noting that, in the past five years, the FAA has spent $13 billion on equipment, Mead said that his projections showed that the FAA could spend $20 billion on equipment and modernization over the next five years. "I think most people would agree, that is a very substantial increase," said Mead.
Boyer said that the FAA doesn't know yet how much modernization will cost, "but modernization doesn't necessarily have to be more expensive. We're going to save some $2 billion over 10 years with flight service station modernization."
Boyer likened the timeline of events on the FAA budget and reauthorization to an IFR flight. The president will submit his budget on February 5; the administration's FAA reauthorization bill - which will specifically spell out its proposals for increased taxes and user fees - will become public by mid-February. Then Congress will begin debating the issues of FAA funding.
"Right now we're cruising along in clear weather with no problems," said Boyer, "but we know the approach is going to be right down to minimums.
"When we hit that final approach fix - the wrangling in Congress - we'll need all our resources, including the help of our more than 410,000 members."
For more information, see " The FAA Funding Debate and User Fees."
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