Fuller talks priorities at hearing on FAA reauthorization

February 8, 2011

The U.S. House of Representatives this week took up the issue of FAA funding. AOPA President Craig Fuller testified before the aviation subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, stating in his prepared remarks submitted before the hearing that the FAA needs a stable four-year funding plan that considers the needs of all sectors of aviation.

Fuller called on the subcommittee members to provide the FAA with long-range financial certainty. “A four-year FAA Reauthorization bill and the certainty it provides are vital for federal investments in safety, modernizing the air traffic control system, FAA operations, airport improvements, and aviation research efforts,” he said in his written testimony.

He also reiterated AOPA’s support for the current funding mechanism, saying, “The FAA Reauthorization bill passed by the House last Congress contained a provision explicitly continuing this time-tested system [using passenger transportation and aviation fuel taxes in combination with General Fund tax revenues to support the FAA and the national aviation system]. AOPA strongly endorses this provision.” He noted that in the last two Congresses, AOPA and its members agreed to 25 percent and 65 percent increases on aviation gasoline and non-commercial jet fuel, respectively, in lieu of user fees to raise the necessary funds for FAA operations and development of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen).

NextGen, Fuller said, must have clearly defined and widely available benefits as an incentive for both general aviation and the airlines to equip. He called on the members to direct the FAA to expand NextGen surveillance services beyond areas currently covered by radar.

“The expansion of these services to new areas would increase safety and efficiency for operators at thousands of airports, providing a powerful incentive to adopt NextGen technology,” he said. “Existing plans to restrict surveillance to areas now covered by radar will make the potential benefits of NextGen inaccessible to pilots flying at thousands of the nation’s airports.”

He also suggested that Congress create financial incentives, which might include federal guarantees for low-interest equipage loans. “Financial incentives and programs must be available for both commercial and general aviation aircraft. Mixed equipage will delay the realization of benefits for all users, and equipping one segment over another will lead to exclusionary practices that threaten the viability of the entire air transportation segment.”

In order to take full advantage of NextGen’s eventual capabilities, Fuller said, Congress and the FAA need to continue their commitment to maintain and improve the nation’s airport infrastructure. But he cautioned against using Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds to pay for NextGen implementation projects.

“With limited funds available through the AIP, it remains imperative that the focus of these funding mechanisms remains on maintaining a safe airport operating environment. AOPA has serious concerns with a Future of Aviation Advisory Committee recommendation to open AIP eligibility to allow for NextGen projects and upgrades. With many existing airports awaiting basic and needed safety improvements, opening the AIP to fund NextGen projects could easily divert the focus and funds needed for those existing projects.”

Finally, Fuller called on the subcommittee members to make sure the FAA takes a leadership role in the search for an unleaded aviation gasoline, and that the agency continues to get the funding it needs for that work. “Enough funding must be authorized for the FAA to accomplish what will likely be a multi-year effort, an effort whose outcome will have immediate and lasting effects on the GA industry,” he said.

Fuller concluded by saying AOPA and the general aviation community believe strongly that a four-year FAA reauthorization—one that relies on the tried-and-true system of passenger and fuel taxes plus General Fund contributions for funding—is imperative to keep the national air transportation system operating safely and effectively. He urged Congress to move swiftly to approve a bill that supports federal investments in safety, efficiency, modernization, airport improvements, and aviation research.