September 26, 2013
By Elizabeth A Tennyson
With a Sept. 30 deadline to reach agreement on a federal budget or face a government shutdown looming and a new round of mandatory sequestration cuts on the horizon, AOPA and other general aviation organizations are banding together to protect pilots.
If Congress can’t reach a final budget agreement by the end of the month, only two options remain: a government shutdown or passage of a continuing resolution. Either way, pilots are unlikely to see immediate effects.
“We’ve spoken with the FAA about what would happen in each case, and they’ve assured us that essential services and employees will continue to be available,” said Heidi Williams, AOPA vice president of air traffic services and modernization.
In the case of a government shutdown, air traffic control, flight service, notams, and other critical services will keep operating. But an extended shutdown could create other problems, like delays in implementing new procedures, a halt to infrastructure maintenance and improvements, and long waits for medical and pilot certificates to be processed.
A continuing resolution, on the other hand, would allow the government to keep operating at current funding levels for a designated period of time.
In either case, sequestration cuts are likely to follow in short order. The across-the-board cuts would require the FAA to find hundreds of millions of dollars in savings for the 2014 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. When similar cuts were imposed last March, the FAA initially announced that it would close more than 100 contract air traffic control towers, furlough employees, stop maintaining navaids, slow down NextGen implementation, and cut a range of other services and staff to meet the budget mandate. While some of the most extreme proposals were stopped following public outcry and congressional intervention, the FAA did find ways to trim its spending.
“Because a new round of sequestration cuts would have to be implemented on top of cuts the FAA made earlier in the year, the impact could be significantly worse,” said Melissa Rudinger, AOPA senior vice president of government affairs. “We can’t afford to let people who don’t understand or use GA make decisions that will affect our safety. That’s why the GA community is banding together to be proactive about identifying potential cost-saving measures.”
AOPA and other GA associations have agreed to collaborate to find ways to cut costs and save money that won’t affect safety or reduce access to the system. A preliminary examination of FAA spending is expected to yield substantial savings. More details of the joint proposal will be released at AOPA Aviation Summit in Fort Worth next month.
Director of Government Affairs and Executive Communications Elizabeth Tennyson joined AOPA in 1998, the same year she earned her private pilot certificate. She also holds an instrument rating and enjoys jumping out of planes almost as much as flying them.
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