The Clinton administration's 2001 FAA budget proposal is an "out-of-balance offering that would cut general aviation safety programs and shortchange the aviation infrastructure needs of the nation," said Phil Boyer, president of the 355,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
"The administration is once again proposing user fees—ignoring a six-year congressional mandate—and cutting airport funding. It just doesn't add up."
AOPA obtained an advance look at budget figures that will be released Feb. 7. The administration is proposing some $11.3 billion in funding for the Federal Aviation Administration in fiscal year 2001, an apparent 12-percent increase over this year's budget.
"But the administration is funding that increase through 'tax-in-the-sky' assumptions," said Boyer. "This budget has a $1 billion hole in it, and there is no realistic way to pay for it."
The administration once again assumes it will pay for funding increases with new air traffic control user fees.
The proposal would create an air traffic services "performance-based organization" within the FAA, paid for by new user fees imposed on airline operations. (Air traffic control user fees have not yet been proposed for general aviation.)
Undoubtedly, these fees would be passed on to airline passengers through increased ticket prices. Proposed air traffic control user fees are, in reality, a $1 billion tax increase.
However, Congress has rejected user fees every year the Clinton administration has proposed them. Congress will likely reject this year's user fee proposal as well.
The administration also proposes to pump more money into operations, research, and new technology by reducing the available Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds for airport improvements.
(While the administration is proposing to maintain AIP funding at $1.95 billion, it wants to divert some $88 million in AIP funds for administrative and essential air service costs.)
"Technology alone will not meet the increasing air traffic demand," said Boyer. "We haven't yet figured out how to put two airplanes on the same runway. We need more runways, which take years to plan, approve, and build. You can't do that by reducing airport improvement funds."
Bottom line, the administration's $11.3 billion FAA budget is out of balance by at least $1 billion.
The administration proposes to increase the FAA's research and equipment budgets overall by 20 percent. However, it wants to cut FAA-requested funding for specific general aviation safety and modernization programs.
Weather is the primary cause of fatal GA accidents, yet the administration cut the FAA's weather research request from $14 million to $8 million.
The administration's budget cuts by 36 percent the FAA's requested funding for the OASIS modernization program (to improve the FAA's ability to provide weather information to pilots). Also cut was the funding request for the loran C navigation system; it was slashed 40 percent from $30 million to $18 million.
"Those cuts are only three percent of the FAA's research and equipment (RE&D and F&E) budgets, but those programs—if fully funded—would improve safety and efficiency for 96 percent of the active aviation fleet," said Boyer.
"Once again, the administration has presented a 'smoke and mirrors' FAA budget based on untenable assumptions about new taxes," said Boyer. "It's time to stop playing this annual budget game and give the FAA a dependable, predictable funding stream that will match aviation growth."
The way to do that, said Boyer, is to adopt the budget approach advocated by House Transportation Chairman Bud Shuster (R-Pa.) and Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.) in the proposed AIR-21 legislation. That bill would commit all of the money in the aviation trust fund to aviation spending and maintain a modest contribution of general fund revenues to the FAA's budget.
"AIR-21 would give the FAA the funds it needs without imposing new taxes, while maintaining the important congressional oversight of the Appropriations committees."
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the world's largest civil aviation organization. Some 55 percent of the nation's pilots are AOPA members.
February 4, 2000