The administration's proposed budget for the FAA is good news for general aviation in the short term, but there are storm clouds on the horizon.
The budget does request the full funding for airport and airway improvements as established by the AIR-21 bill. That means all of the trust fund monies collected will be spent on aviation.
The administration also said it would not seek user fees.
But buried within the budget proposal is a note that the administration will evaluate the effectiveness of the yet-to-be formed air traffic control performance-based organization (PBO). If it doesn't work as planned, the Department of Transportation will consider "partial privatization" or "franchising" parts of air traffic control.
"If aviation didn't have enough to be concerned about in the post-9/11 environment, it now seems that privatization is creeping back up through all of the security concerns," said AOPA President Phil Boyer.
The proposal asks Congress for $14 billion for the FAA, about 1.6 percent less than 2002, based on Department of Transportation numbers. That cut is because some of the FAA's security responsibilities have been shifted to the new Transportation Security Administration.
The details of the FAA budget were presented during a Department of Transportation press briefing February 4. During the question and answer session, AOPA Legislative Affairs staff asked the DOT's second in command Deputy Transportation Secretary Michael P. Jackson if the administration intends to propose eliminating the restriction Congress has placed on the implementation of user fees for those who use the air traffic control system. Jackson simply responded, "No, no we do not."
After stating "the FAA must continue to increase its commitment to safe and efficient air travel," Deputy Secretary Jackson outlined the various highlights of the FAA budget that includes: $7.5 billion for FAA Operations to improve safety and efficiency; $2.88 billion for the FAA to continue to improve and modernize equipment central to the National Airspace System; $127 million for research, engineering, and development; and $3.4 billion for planning and development of the nation's airports, which includes grants for airport capacity projects.
The President's total budget request for all government agencies contains $746.5 billion in total discretionary spending, an increase of $59 billion over last year's $688 billion total. Broken down, that means $25 billion for non-defense homeland security, $366 billion for defense, and $355 for domestic programs. With much of the discretionary spending in Bush's budget going to defense and homeland security, enormous pressure will be placed on the funding for the FAA and other agencies. AOPA's top priority in the budget process will be to ensure that the FAA continues to receive the funding for airports and airway modernization when the budget goes to Congress.
The President's budget proposal now moves to Capitol Hill, where it will be debated over the next several weeks.