“Elections matter” is a favorite phrase of a friend of mine, and, after the first quarter of 2011, it is certainly accurate as it pertains to life in Washington, D.C. As the 112th Congress got to work in January, new leaders assumed committee chairmanships in the House of Representatives and new members of Congress began serving their constituents in the House of Representatives and the United States Senate.
To be sure, there was a settling-in period. But right from the start, things have been different. First, House leadership, undaunted by the fact that we are (as of April) six months into the 2011 budget year, began a top-to-bottom review of spending, looking to trim $100 billion from the federal budget before it will approve a 2011 funding level—something the federal government needs to keep it running to avoid a government-wide shutdown. The battle continues as I write this.
Then, the Obama administration submitted its 2012 budget with its proposal of federal funding reductions. Some in Congress objected, saying the cuts were too deep. Many others suggest the reductions did not go far enough.
On most of our specific issues, policy makers on a bipartisan basis share our views. First and foremost, there continues to be a big “no” to aviation user fees. Indeed, there is a concern about fees and tax increases in general among many in Congress.
There are moves to reduce funding to airports, which concerns us. However, even in this cost-cutting environment, community airports used by general aviation have been identified as places where continued federal support remains important.
There also remains a commitment to advance NextGen—the next generation of air traffic management. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate provide funding for the development of the NextGen program and have set timetables for action by the end of the decade. Importantly, there are requirements being suggested that the FAA must meet before equipment can be mandated at the end of the decade.
At AOPA, we have argued that the current system will not continue to meet our future aviation needs. And we support the development and implementation of NextGen technologies. However, we must always see a meaningful return on the investment in equipment we are being asked to put in our aircraft. We commend those who are working to ensure that the capabilities and benefits of enhanced systems are known before further requirements are embraced. And, we appreciate their sensitivity to making sure the costs are driven lower and the value is driven upward.
Continuously, we are asked whether budget cuts will hurt general aviation. Of course, in this day and age every organization can and should look for savings. I know the FAA administrator and his colleagues are doing this on an ongoing basis, which we applaud. The FAA budget is a little different than other areas of federal spending in that about two-thirds of it is generated every year by those of us who use the system, either by flying commercial airlines or by operating aircraft and paying fuel taxes. With about 65 cents on every dollar coming from the aviation sector and traveling public, we do believe that the expenditures going to ensure that the air transportation system is both safe and efficient represent a fair and reasonable investment.
When all is said and done, we support FAA reauthorization legislation, which covers all of these issues and many others. We do want to see decisions made that will give us greater certainty about future initiatives and a clear understanding of how new technologies can improve the safety and efficiency of flying GA. For these reasons, we are supporting the passage of FAA reauthorization legislation and of budget agreements ensuring adequate funding for the FAA into the foreseeable future.
It goes without saying that our own issues are important, but to be truly responsible we must also consider the view from 40,000 feet. From that perspective, we simply cannot sustain the rising national debt. To give you one example, if we remain on the present course of spending, the interest on the debt in 2021 will be $1 trillion a year in 2020 (this is from President Obama’s Fiscal Advisory Commission). And, with regard to energy, we cannot tolerate oil at $100 per barrel without working to reduce our dependence on this resource, especially when its source is beyond our control.
Increasingly, I talk about both of these areas as being of critical importance to all of us in general aviation, believing that getting it right will make a real difference to our community. So while all of us who care about GA want to see appropriate levels of spending on the FAA and the aviation system as a whole, we are also conscious of the bigger picture. That said, we at AOPA will continue to work for the best interests of the general aviation community. We recognize that, while our members care deeply about GA, they want GA to function effectively within a system that is viable as a whole. That is what we at AOPA want, too, and it’s what we work toward every day.
AOPA President Craig Fuller was Vice President George H.W. Bush’s chief of staff. E-mail AOPA President Craig Fuller at firstname.lastname@example.org.