Yet another congressional committee is calling into question the Bush administration's justification for changing the FAA funding system and radically increasing general aviation fuel taxes.
The FAA claims it needs more taxes and user fees to fund the NextGen air traffic control modernization program. But Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), chairman of the space and aeronautics subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee, questioned the government's ability to deliver on its NextGen promise.
"I am troubled by indications that all may not be going as well as hoped with the NextGen effort," said Udall at a March 29 hearing. "We haven't yet seen a clear plan from FAA and the JPDO for implementing agreed-upon NextGen technologies and procedures into the National Airspace System expeditiously."
The House Science and Technology Committee has jurisdiction over all non-defense research and development, and therefore the committee will play a significant role in shaping the FAA funding bill.
Udall asked JPDO Director Charles Leader when each NextGen system would be fully integrated into the National Airspace System and what was preventing JPDO from implementing it earlier. Leader didn't answer directly, stating he would respond later in writing.
(JPDO - Joint Planning and Development Office — is the multi-agency group overseeing the development of the NextGen system. It includes the FAA, NASA, the White House Science and Technology Office, and the Departments of Defense, Transportation, Homeland Security, and Commerce.)
Udall pointed out that "when DOT and JPDO testified before this subcommittee exactly a year ago, we were told that a memorandum of understanding defining the NextGen partner agencies roles and responsibilities would be finalized 'within the next few weeks.' One year later, it is clear that that did not happen - and still hasn't happened. At that same hearing, we were told that JPDO planned to release an 'enterprise architecture' for NextGen in the summer of 2006. That did not happen — and still hasn't happened."
AOPA President Phil Boyer echoed Rep. Udall's comments about the pace of NexGen. Boyer co-chairs an industry advisory panel to the JPDO along with Air Transport Association President James May.
At a recent industry event, Boyer said, "My counterpart with the airlines on this panel, Mr. May, and I agree on many things, including the continuing need to modernize the air transportation system. Yet even with our huge involvement and enthusiasm in seeing to it that NextGen happens, neither of us today could spell out the technologies nor the costs that modernization will require.
"The FAA should be devoting its resources to designing and costing out NextGen, rather than trying to create a new financing system," said Boyer.
Udall also expressed concern about the introduction of unmanned aircraft systems into public airspace, noting that the FAA had said in a previous hearing that it would take five to 10 years to develop regulations and certification requirements for the drones.
March 30, 2007