Congress has passed the FAA funding bill, and in effect said, "The current tax system works just fine, thank you." So much for the FAA's claim that the system is "broken." And once again, lawmakers said, "No user fees!"
"Congress, acting as the board of directors for the FAA, has once again decided that the fairest, most responsible way to pay for aviation's benefits to all citizens is through excise taxes and general fund contributions," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "And that's why we want to make sure that Congress retains oversight of the FAA."
However, the language on user fees is only good through September 2006. Meanwhile, there are some in Washington who continue to support a funding system with the "revenue stream" tied to services provided. That means that potentially every FAA "service" - a flight service station or DUAT weather briefing, every contact with a tower or en route controller, every new certificate or rating issuance, and conceivably every landing at a federally funded airport - would result in a direct charge to the pilot for that service.
"Frankly, this is not something that we can allow to happen," said Boyer.
Meanwhile, Congress found that, for fiscal year 2006, the revenue from the aviation trust fund and the general fund was enough to give the FAA even more money than the Bush administration asked for.
And that's good news for general aviation.
Consider airports - the Bush administration asked for only $3 billion for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP). Because of some complex formulas built into the law, that would have meant no guaranteed funding for smaller general aviation airports.
AOPA asked Congress to fund AIP near the maximum level of $3.6 billion. Congress did - $3.55 billion, and that means money specifically for non-air carrier GA airports.
AOPA also asked for $10 million for the FAA to create new WAAS approaches into general aviation airports that don't currently have an ILS. Congress granted that, which will permit the FAA to do much needed surveys that are the first step in publishing new approaches. Congress granted a total of $93 million for the entire WAAS system.
There was an attempt to use the budget process to stop the modernization of flight service station operations through the use of the FAA's contractor, Lockheed-Martin. That failed. AOPA lobbied for funds to continue the transition, which Congress granted.
The FAA said it plans to make a decision in July about transitioning from radar and transponders to ADS-B - automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast. That system, which is currently being successfully demonstrated by the Capstone program in Alaska, would provide traffic and weather information to GA pilots in the cockpit and give air traffic control a more expansive picture of air traffic. Congress authorized $10 million to augment ADS-B funding and told the FAA to submit an ADS-B spending plan within 30 days. Overall, the Bush administration asked for $32.95 million for the Safe Flight 21 program - Congress granted $42.95 million.
"This budget means that important programs for aviation safety and infrastructure improvement will continue," said Boyer. "And it also shows the funding system is far from 'broken.'"
November 23, 2005