GA access vital in modernized ATC system
What does the FAA need to do to break down barriers that could exclude general aviation access to a modernized air traffic control (ATC) system?
During the Air Traffic Control Association's annual conference in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, AOPA identified the barriers and told FAA officials and aviation industry experts exactly what the agency must do to assure GA access to the system of the future.
"Complex airport and instrument approach design criteria, expensive avionics, and security-related flight restrictions are three significant barriers GA pilots will face during ATC modernization if the FAA does not take action," said AOPA Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Melissa Rudinger. "The FAA needs to revise its antiquated design criteria, simplify the certification process for avionics, and adopt a risk-based approach to airspace security that moves away from flight restrictions."
AOPA recommended that the FAA update its airport and instrument approach design criteria, which were created for ground-based navaids, to make it easier for airports to offer GPS-based instrument approaches like WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System).
This would allow WAAS to be implemented faster, bringing precision-like approaches to hundreds of GA airports that currently have none.
The association also said the FAA needs to take steps to simplify the process for installing new avionics. This would help drive down costs, making it easier for GA pilots to upgrade to the equipment they will need on board their aircraft to operate in the new system.
However, AOPA pointed out that pilots will need a bigger incentive than affordable avionics to upgrade: The FAA must also provide robust datalink services to give pilots graphical traffic, weather, and airspace information right in the cockpit.
AOPA urged the Department of Transportation and the FAA to reassert a leadership role in airspace security. The association believes this is necessary for the agency to be able to stand up to pressures from the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense to provide restricted airspace for UAV operations.
"Restricting airspace is inefficient and severely hampers aviation," Rudinger said. "The FAA must develop regulations that incorporate UAVs into the aviation system."
AOPA also committed to continue to work collaboratively with the FAA and aviation industry to address these barriers and pave the way for the next generation of general aviation pilots.
"Grandma in seat 28B should only have to pay her fair share," said the spokesperson for the airlines, until just recently a top policy official for the FAA.
"Should grandma have to pay the true cost to get a first-class letter in Alaska, rather than 39 cents?" countered AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Should highway users in New York help pay for an interstate highway in Montana?"
What's "fair" when it comes to paying for the air traffic control system? That was part of the panel discussion Monday before the Air Traffic Control Association's annual conference in Washington, D.C.
Former FAA official Sharon Pinkerton, now working for the Air Transport Association (the airline's trade association) repeated the argument that the airlines "pay too much" for ATC, and that user fees are the only "fair" way to apportion costs.
(Of course, the FAA is also arguing that it needs a funding system that ties revenue to costs. And it may be no small coincidence that Dan Elwell, Pinkerton's replacement as the FAA's top policy official, came from American Airlines, or that Megan Rosia, the FAA's new chief lobbyist, is coming from Northwest Airlines.)
Boyer countered that the air traffic control system is built to meet the peak demands of the airlines, and general aviation uses the excess capacity. For example, some airports have a control tower simply because two airline flights a day operate from the airport. Without those two flights, there would be no tower.
"It's certainly not fair to impose a tower on us, then claim we're not paying our fair share," said Boyer.
"Nor is it fair to build a huge tracon structure solely because of the demands of the airlines' 'push' operations at a hub airport, and then try to apportion the tracon costs to the GA aircraft flying around the edges into the reliever airports."
And Boyer again countered the canard that the current aviation funding system - fuel taxes on GA, ticket taxes and segment fees on the airlines - can't fund the future air traffic control system.
"If we keep the same efficient and fair funding system we use today, and even if you assume that the FAA's budget will grow faster than it has in the past, and that there is only a moderate increase in air travel, the aviation trust fund will still have a surplus in 2010," Boyer said.
"There will be sufficient money to modernize ATC," he said, also reminding the audience the modernization will most likely lead to cost savings.
"The system isn't broken," Boyer said. "Stop trying to fix it."
Updated: November 1, 2006, 3:35 p.m. EST