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Where the rubber meets the tarmacWhere the rubber meets the tarmac

Where the rubber meets the tarmac
Talking funding, security with counties

National Association of Counties

County governments own and operate a substantial number of general aviation airports and are represented on many airport authorities. That's why they called on AOPA on Saturday to talk about federal funding, a lifeline that provides important support for airport infrastructure.

"Counties are where we live," said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs. "That is why it's vital that we ensure airports get the funding they need to maintain safety and generate revenue. They need to reject calls by the nation's airlines to create a user fee-funded air traffic control system as well as calls to eliminate Congress as the FAA's board of directors."

Cebula spoke at the National Association of Counties' annual conference in Chicago during a meeting of its transportation steering committee. The committee is formulating the organization's position on aviation funding. The association's membership includes more than 2,000 counties, representing 80 percent of the nation's population. Much like AOPA, the group maintains an office in Washington, D.C., to make sure its messages are communicated to the White House and halls of Congress.

Illustrating the important role Congress plays in FAA oversight, Cebula pointed out how the White House is proposing to cut nearly $1 billion from the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) in 2007 compared to the amount established by Congress. Almost all of that would come from monies earmarked for GA airports. Under the somewhat arcane funding formulas, when AIP funding drops below $3.2 billion, all "entitlements" for GA airports are eliminated. But Congress has rejected the cuts in both the House and Senate versions for FAA's spending.

Next year the debate will be centered around how the FAA is funded, either with taxes or user fees. Cebula requested that the group endorse six critical policy recommendations:

  • Congress must remain the FAA's board of directors;
  • Taxes and the federal budget process are the right funding structure for the FAA;
  • 25 percent of the FAA's budget should come from the general fund;
  • Robust funding for all airports, including general aviation airports, is essential;
  • The FAA can and should reduce costs;
  • The FAA should define its modernization strategy and explain what it is going to buy and when.

Cebula explained how the airlines, meanwhile, have mounted an early lobbying effort to change the funding mechanism to favor their own interests. The airlines and the FAA both claim that FAA funding is insufficient, but AOPA contends that between the predicted growth of the aviation trust fund and the historical general fund contributions to the FAA's budget, there are sufficient revenues to improve airports and aviation infrastructure and fund a well-managed, efficient FAA.

Cebula also used the opportunity to talk about airport security, highlighting the AOPA Airport Watch program. The program calls on local pilots to be the eyes and ears for suspicious activity. Through a partnership with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the program has distributed a host of materials and set up a nationwide toll-free hotline run by the TSA (866/GA-SECURE).

August 7, 2006

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