AOPA President Phil Boyer blasted the Clinton administration's FAA budget proposal for fiscal year 2001 in testimony before Congress February 29. Speaking to the House aviation subcommittee, Boyer criticized the budget proposal for imposing unnecessary new taxes (user fees) while cutting programs critical to general aviation safety.
"The administration wants to impose $1 billion in new aviation user fees next year alone," Boyer said. "When will President Clinton get the message? Since this administration came into office, Congress has emphatically told it 'no user fees' five times!"
The Clinton proposal would collect some $9 billion in user fees by 2005, and it would eliminate the historic general fund contribution to FAA operations (which supports government and military use of FAA services and the FAA's regulatory, safety, and security functions that benefit all citizens).
At the same time, the surplus in the aviation trust fund would increase to $32 billion by 2008 under this budget.
"Mr. Chairman, why in the world are they proposing new taxes?" Boyer asked. "The administration's FAA budget is based on financial principles that would be considered ludicrous under any rules except those of the federal government."
Boyer said that this dubious budget proposal demonstrated why AIR-21, the landmark FAA reauthorization bill, should become law.
AIR-21 (which was passed overwhelmingly by the House but is being held up by the Senate) would take the aviation trust fund "off budget," ensuring that all aviation trust funds could be spent on aviation needs and guarantee a continued general fund contribution to FAA operations.
"Unlocking the trust fund is so critical to aviation that AOPA sent an emergency mailing to every AOPA member urging them to pressure their senators to support AIR-21," Boyer told the subcommittee.
Boyer also attacked the administration budget for shortchanging programs critical to general aviation safety. In particular, he pointed to drastic cuts in programs to improve delivery of weather information to GA pilots.
"Weather is the leading cause of GA accidents, yet today, pilots can get better graphical weather information over the Internet or from the Weather Channel than they can get from the FAA," Boyer said. He showed committee members the dramatic difference in the weather graphics available to flight service stations versus what's on the Internet.
"But what's lacking on the Internet is the expert knowledge provided by the FAA's highly trained FSS specialists," said Boyer. "Some modest investments would make an immediate, positive impact on GA safety, yet those investments were cut in the administration's budget."
Boyer was referring to funding for OASIS (the Operational and Supportability Implementation System), which will replace obsolete FSS computers with a modern, Windows-based system. OASIS can deliver timely, state-of-the-art weather graphics and can be easily updated to meet future needs.
"In terms of the FAA's overall budget, this is a very modest program. Yet the administration cut OASIS funding by 36 percent," Boyer said. "There is no modernization effort that will improve general aviation safety more than a successful transition from the outdated FSS systems to OASIS."
The AOPA president reminded Congress that the FAA promised almost three decades ago to install automated equipment at flight service stations. However, development soon lagged, and the original program was abandoned in 1984.
"How much longer does general aviation have to wait for these promises to be delivered?" asked Boyer.
Boyer also argued that more funds should be devoted to further development of automated weather reporting equipment (ASOS and AWOS). The technology should be extended to a greater number of airports, Boyer said, and these weather reports should be fed into the national system.
"This would allow pilots to access weather information for their destination airports hundreds of miles before arrival and allow them to make critical decisions—such as whether to attempt an instrument approach—much earlier in the flight."
Boyer advocated continued funding for development of WAAS (the Wide Area Augmentation System), which will provide precision vertical and horizontal guidance to all airports. WAAS will provide ILS-like instrument approaches but at a much cheaper cost than an instrument landing system. (A typical ILS costs some $1.5 million to install, well beyond the financial resources of most general aviation airports.)
"However, technology alone is not going to solve the problems of increasing air traffic," Boyer said. "No one has yet been able to put two aircraft on a runway at the same time. Eventually, all of these planes must land."
Runways take years to plan and build, yet the administration budget proposal effectively cuts funding for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP). "The White House raided AIP by some $88 million to cover administrative costs and essential air service. That does nothing to make the necessary improvements to the nation's airports.
"This budget proposal drops under-funded programs into the lap of Congress," Boyer told the aviation subcommittee. "The administration is trying to force you either to cannibalize parts of the FAA's budget or to implement user fees.
"It's time to stop playing this annual budget game and give the FAA a dependable, predictable funding stream that will match aviation growth. AIR-21 will do that."
A copy of AOPA President Phil Boyer's written testimony to the House subcommittee on aviation is available on AOPA Online.
The 355,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the world's largest civil aviation organization. More than one half of the nation's pilots are AOPA members.
February 29, 2000