Fuller: FAA sequestration cuts not safe or sensible

Association urges better cooperation with aviation industry

March 6, 2013

AOPA President Craig Fuller on March 6 leveled sharp criticism at the sequestration cuts planned by the Obama administration and the FAA, suggesting that the decision to close control towers and scale back aviation services constitutes a risk to aviation safety.

“The White House budget office has forced troubling, and possibly dangerous, cuts on the FAA,” Fuller said. “It doesn’t have to be that way. Rational savings can be found, and we are ready to work with the FAA and the Department of Transportation to build workable solutions. But closing more than 200 air traffic control towers, derailing certification, and allowing our navigational aid system to deteriorate just doesn’t make sense.

“These are vital FAA commitments and abandoning them is unsafe, unwise, and unacceptable to AOPA members.”

During an appearance at the Helicopter Association International’s Heli-Expo 2013 in Las Vegas, Fuller urged the FAA to step back from its planned cuts and work with aviation industry groups on alternative spending reductions that would have little impact on air safety and the operations of general aviation.

“I fear that administration officials are driving a process that will have dire consequences for air safety and general aviation,” Fuller said. “General aviation is under assault from people who either don’t understand the dangerous consequences of their actions, or worse, simply do not care.

“We are calling on the Obama administration to grant FAA the necessary flexibility to find more rational savings.”

Fuller spoke March 6 at a town hall meeting featuring the CEOs of the general aviation alphabet groups—Fuller, Matt Zuccaro of Helicopter Association International, Pete Bunce of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Henry Ogrodzinski of the National Association of State Aviation Officials, Tom Hendricks of the National Air Transportation Association, and Ed Bolen of the National Business Aviation Association. Other association heads shared his concern that the Obama administration is waging an “assault on general aviation&rdquo with policies that harm pilots, aircraft owners, and the manufacturing industry.

The administration’s advancement of proposals such as a $100 per flight user fee for turbine aircraft are part of a bigger issue related to the administration’s treatment of general aviation, Fuller said. Zuccaro cited the administration’s effort to stop accelerated depreciation schedules for aircraft—which Bolen said stimulates jobs and growth—as further evidence. “Promote the industry, don’t disparage it,” Bolen urged.

On March 1 the administration and Congress failed to halt legislation that imposes automatic, across-the-board federal spending cuts of $85 billion. The FAA told aviation industry representatives that its share of cuts would total $600 million—the largest portion of the cuts sustained by the Department of Transportation.

To reach those savings, FAA officials have decided to close nearly 200 control towers at airports around the country, reduce repairs to most of the nation’s navigational aids, and give most of the FAA’s 47,000 employees a one-day-per pay period furlough.

The FAA’s plan has caused confusion in a number of communities with airports that rely on control towers. The FAA has identified 77 essential operating areas. But general aviation aircraft—everything from two-seat, single-engine piston airplanes to helicopters to business jets—often operate at smaller airports that are closer to destinations and business sites outside of major metropolitan areas.

Those communities could experience a drastic reduction in aviation services, revenue, and jobs if the cuts go forward in April as planned.

Fuller said that AOPA already has recommended a number of streamlining initiatives and spending cuts that the FAA could adopt without any impact on the strong record of general aviation air safety. These suggestions include expanding the use of the driver’s license medical by adopting the AOPA-EAA medical proposal.

Fuller, as head of the world’s largest civil aviation organization, suggested the FAA revisit its planned cuts and work with AOPA and other aviation groups to find better ways to achieve them.

“Voters did not ask for fewer towers!” Fuller said, referring to the November presidential election. “They did not ask for fewer controllers! They will not tolerate safety reductions! And neither will we.”