The FAA’s budgetary woes are but one symptom of the U.S. fiscal freight train that has been speeding down the track with ever greater wobbles since 9/11. Twenty-odd years ago there was outrage in the aviation community that the sacred cash in the aviation “trust fund” (a misnomer if ever there was one) was being used to make the federal deficit look smaller and to pay for the FAA’s day-to-day operations rather than to maintain and improve the airports and airways for which it was intended; nowadays nobody bats an eye, but even after siphoning the trust-fund billions the agency still has barely two pennies to rub together, it seems.
How does this affect business aviation? The more obvious, operational results of these FAA expenditures are the helpful voices that are piped into pilots’ headsets, the upkeep of the runways we use and so on. NATCA has made a career of reacting fast and furiously to any suggestion of controller cutbacks.
But there are other, less immediately obvious casualties. Take, for example, Associated Air Center, the big-business-aircraft completions center in Dallas, which received from the agency’s southwest region a far from satisfactory response to a request for an STC to install an executive interior in an Airbus A319.
“Please be advised,” the letter from the FAA read, “that given our current limited resources and reduced staffing, as well as our financial outlook for this and the next fiscal year, it compels us to evaluate the resources required to support your program in light of other FAA Aircraft Certification Service priorities. This evaluation affects the timelines for your program.” Citing “severely limited” resources, the FAA told Associated Air Center “we anticipate being able to tell you when we can commence work on your project within the next three months.”
With the industry just emerging from the hard times of the past four years or so, it can ill afford to deal with this sort of power failure at liftoff. OEMs are finding the FAA about as reliable as it ever was, but the dilemma of the completions shops typifies the agency’s inability to accommodate short-notice tasks such as STCs.
The FAA’s certification people assert that they are merely doing what they have done for many years by sharing resources among offices as project workload ebbs and flows among regions.