General aviation airports are in for a rough time next year if the Bush administration gets its way.
"The White House is proposing to cut nearly $1 billion from the Airport Improvement Program in 2007 compared to the amount established by Congress, and almost all of that would come from monies earmarked for GA airports," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Congress must not allow this to happen."
Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta released the Department of Transportation's budget earlier this week, which includes $13.7 billion for the FAA.
DOT claims that the reduced amount for airports is "still robust by historical standards" and that all major runway projects would be completed.
"There's more to the system than runways at air carrier airports," said Boyer. "And Congress, when it authorized spending up to $3.7 billion for airports, decided what is 'robust.' This proposal isn't anywhere close to 'robust.'"
Under the somewhat arcane funding formulas, when AIP funding drops below $3.2 billion (the administration is proposing $2.75 billion for next year), all "entitlements" for GA airports are eliminated. That means almost all of the money would go to big airports.
The money the administration proposes to "save" by cutting airport funding would be used to help pay for air traffic control operations. But the typical general aviation pilot is only a marginal consumer of ATC services; some 90 percent of GA flights are flown in VFR conditions.
Once again, the administration is claiming poverty when it comes to the FAA because the funding system is allegedly broken.
"There is general agreement that our growing aviation system needs a more stable and predictable revenue stream that creates a more direct relationship between revenues collected and services provided," Mineta said.
"As the representative of more than 407,000 pilots, we definitely do not concur with that statement," said Boyer. "There's no 'general agreement' from our side - especially for any proposal that includes user fees."
Details of this new "cost based" financing plan and what it will mean for GA are expected to be released sometime this spring.
AOPA contends that between the predicted growth of the aviation trust fund and the historical general fund contributions to FAA's budget, there are sufficient revenues to improve airports and aviation infrastructure and fund a well-managed, efficient FAA.
"If there is any good news for GA in this budget, it is proposed funding for new technologies that will support the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NGATS)," said Boyer.
The budget proposal provides $122.4 million for continued improvements and expansion to the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), which provides inexpensive ILS-like instrument approaches into hundreds of GA airports that don't currently have ILSs.
Another $80 million would be earmarked for ADS-B implementation. ADS-B will provide in-cockpit weather and traffic information for GA pilots and extend air traffic control's ability to see aircraft in areas that are now blind to radar.
"AOPA has been a strong proponent of both WAAS and ADS-B because of the benefits they bring to general aviation," said Boyer. "We believe they should be adequately funded.
"But we must never forget that no matter how good the technology, the system falls apart without airports. That's where we need to put our money, and AOPA will work with Congress to restore those airport funds."
February 8, 2006