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AOPA testimony: FAA budget requests and funding needsAOPA testimony: FAA budget requests and funding needs

Statement of Phil Boyer
Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association

before the
House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Subcommittee on Aviation
The Honorable John J. Duncan, Chairman

FAA Budget Requests and Funding Needs

February 29, 2000

Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, good morning. My name is Phil Boyer and I am the president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. For over 60 years AOPA has been promoting the interests of those who contribute to the nation’s economy by using general aviation aircraft to fulfill their business and personal transportation needs. In fact, more than half of all pilots in the country are part of our 355,000-member organization.

Mr. Chairman, I appreciate this opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the Clinton administration’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2001. However, I must say that I am somewhat disappointed to be here at all. This is the administration’s final budget proposal, and it is obvious that they have yet to receive the clear message sent by this committee. For the fifth time in seven years the Clinton administration has rejected the mandate put forth by this committee. Mr. Chairman, it is obvious that even after eight years in office, this administration cannot understand that this committee has said "no" to user fees. Yet, they have ignored the clear signal you have sent and proposed them once again.

In our opinion, this budget proposal, with its dubious budgetary assumptions, justifies the approach taken by this committee last year when it proposed, and the House accepted, the landmark FAA reauthorization bill known as AIR-21. It is our sincere hope this will mark our organization’s last appearance before this committee to discuss a budget proposal based on financial principles that would be considered ludicrous under any rules except those of the federal government.

Despite its proposed overall funding increases for aviation, the FY01 budget proposal is an offer that would cut funding for general aviation programs and shortchange the aviation infrastructure needs of the nation. It is predicated on a previously failed approach by which funding increases for the FAA are financed through user fees: $1 billion in user fees in FY01 with a total of $9 billion to be raised through fees by FY05. Despite claims in the budget documents that current excise taxes would be "transitioned" to user fees, no tax reduction actually would take place. Thus, in our opinion, the FAA’s budget proposal for next year is left with a $1 billion hole in it and no realistic way to pay for it.

The administration has once again rejected the historic contribution to aviation that is derived from the general fund. As this committee well knows, general fund dollars are used to support FAA operations for the public and military use of the airspace system as well as the overall economic benefits a national aviation system brings to those citizens who might not ever by an airplane ticket. And perhaps worst of all, Mr. Chairman, under the administration’s budget, the balance in the aviation trust fund would actually grow by FY05 to $19 billion!

Mr. Chairman, as the amount of general aviation and commercial traffic increases each year, an already overburdened airport and airway system continues to be pushed beyond the limits for which it was designed. The dispersion of weather information, upgrading of the navigation system, and airport improvements are all aspects of our airport and airway system that need immediate attention. Despite the fact that general aviation aircraft represent 96 percent of the of the civil aircraft fleet and 59 percent of annual operations, modest investments, not proposed in this year’s budget, could make an immediate, positive impact on general aviation safety. Let me offer just a few examples.

Almost all general aviation pilots receive their preflight weather briefing via one of the FAA’s 61 automated flight service stations. The Operational and Supportability Implementation System, known as OASIS, is designed to replace the aging computers currently found in these flight service stations. There is no modernization effort that will improve general aviation safety more than a successful transition from the outdated flight service stations to OASIS. And it's long overdue. As this committee well knows, in the 1970s and early 1980s, the FAA agreed to install automated equipment at flight service stations. However, development soon lagged so far behind that the program was abandoned in 1984.

OASIS will provide a modern platform for supporting National Airspace System requirements well into the future. When fully implemented, OASIS will correct deficiencies by providing a Windows-based, expandable platform for supporting future workloads. The difference between the FAA’s request and what the administration has approved is that the FAA’s request would allow for the continued development of this critical software. Yet, the administration’s budget proposal cuts the FAA’s requested funding for the OASIS modernization program by 36 percent. The situation has now reached the point where pilots are able to receive better graphical information from the Weather Channel than from FSS. However, what pilots are missing is the expert weather opinions provided by FSS personnel. How much longer does general aviation have to wait for the promises of the mid-1980s to finally be delivered? Weather is the primary cause of general aviation accidents in this country. Implementation of a fully funded OASIS system will go a long way to improving the safety record of the active general aviation fleet.

Likewise, Mr. Chairman, it is time to fully fund the development of the ASOS and AWOS programs. We now have the technology to replace human weather observation with those done by computer. However, such technology has not been expanded to cover all airports across the nation, and more importantly it has not been tied into the national system.

For example, a pilot flying into Frederick airport in Maryland can monitor the AWOS when he or she is within a certain distance of the airfield, usually a distance of approximately 20 miles. However, such important weather information is not available to the pilot when he or she is any farther away. As a solution, these systems should be implemented at a greater number of airports and tied into the national system. This move would allow pilots to access weather information for their home fields hundreds of miles before arrival. Thus, they will be able to make critical decisions, such as to whether or not to attempt an approach in foul weather, much earlier in the flight.

Yet what happens when these pilots decide to attempt such an approach? If their local airport happens to be equipped with an instrument landing system (ILS), then it is safe for them to attempt a landing with poor visibility and low ceilings. While many airports, such as McMinn County in your district, Mr. Chairman, have GPS approaches, that system does not provide pilots with the altitude guidance information necessary to make an approach in bad weather. As you well know, airports in communities such as Athens, Tennessee, and others who want to attract business find the $1.5 million cost of an ILS system prohibitive. Others have been on the waiting list for ILS equipment for years, yet time and again they seem to be passed over for airports that receive airline service even though those airports have a significantly smaller number of total aircraft operations each year.

The answer to this problem is the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS). The major aviation benefit of the GPS/WAAS combination will be the accessibility of precision navigation to all airports in low visibility conditions. Today, such as system is only possible with significant investment by the airport sponsor, making it impractical and unaffordable to thousands of general aviation airports. However, with proper funding, these small airports will be able to implement new approaches using WAAS technology. The combination of vertical and horizontal navigation provided by this system will be much more cost effective than ILS, eventually making ILS unnecessary.

We have been very pleased to work closely with both the FAA and the airlines on the implementation of the next generation technology—satellite navigation using the Global Positioning System (GPS). However, the transition to satellite based navigation has not occurred in the aggressive timetable envisioned and hoped for by many, including AOPA. Therefore, the WAAS should be implements as soon as possible.

However, technology alone is not going to solve the problems associated with increased air traffic. No one has yet been able to put two aircraft on a runway at the same time, and eventually these planes must land. Runways take years to plan, approve, and build. And such construction is not going to happen if proposed funding for the Airport Improvement Program is decreased. Funding the AIP at last year’s levels and then raiding it by some $88 million to cover administrative costs and essential air service does nothing to improve the long-term status of our nation’s airports. This committee should be on guard for proposals that claim to maintain funding levels, yet divert much need monies to other programs.

In the end, this budget proposal drops under-funded programs into the laps of you, Congress, and forces you to either cannibalize other parts of the FAA’s budget or implement user fees.

Mr. Chairman, once again, the administration has presented an FAA budget based on untenable assumptions about new taxes. It’s time to stop playing this annual budget game and give the FAA a dependable, predictable funding stream that will match aviation growth. The way to do that is to adopt the budget approach advocated by full Committee Chairman Bud Shuster and Ranking Minority Member James L. Oberstar in AIR-21. That bill would commit all of the money in the aviation trust fund to aviation spending and maintain a modest contribution of general fund revenues to the FAA’s budget.

AIR-21 would give the FAA the funds it needs without imposing new taxes, while maintaining the important congressional oversight of the Appropriations committees.

Mr. Chairman, I thank you for this opportunity to appear before you this morning. I look forward to answering any questions that you might have.

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