Proposed FAA budget slashes agency funding

 - February 1, 2007, 9:22 AM

Last year, the Bush Administration unveiled its proposed “next generation air transportation system” and then cut the FAA’s facilities and equipment (F&E) budget request by nearly $400 million.

This year, after the FAA’s December announcement that it would begin hiring 1,250 new air traffic controllers annually to replace the thousands of controllers expected to retire over the next 10 years, the White House allotted $24.9 million to hire only 595 trainees in FY2006.

The White House last month submitted an FAA budget proposal totaling $13.78 billion for FY2006, which begins on October 1. That is some $79.2 million less than the budget for FY2005. Some significant cuts include the Airport Improvement Program, which has been slashed by $500 million from last year’s $3.5 billion figure and F&E, which the proposed budget cuts by $600 million.

General aviation interests are not happy with President Bush’s proposals for the FAA budget and plan to intercede as Congress begins its budget deliberations.
The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) expressed concern that the proposed budget for the FAA will not provide sufficient resources for the agency to fulfill essential parts of its mission.

“While a number of elements of the FAA’s budget concern GAMA, underfunding of certification services stands out,” said GAMA interim president Ron Swanda. “Reducing these services could slow the introduction of new and improved general aviation products.”

Staff Reductions Loom
Details of the Bush Administration’s FY2006 budget indicate that the agency is already reducing expenditures for FY2005 by allowing the number of FAA safety inspectors and engineers to attrite by nearly 250 employees. In FY2006 the FAA will replace only 97 of these inspectors and engineers.

“Some manufacturers have already been notified that certification services will be curtailed this year because of FAA staff reductions,” said Swanda. “Just as our industry has turned a corner and is growing at near-record levels, the FAA’s lack of certification resources could become the biggest obstacle to increasing U.S. jobs and the strength of the U.S. aviation industry.”

The National Air Traffic Control Association (NATCA), the union that represents the air traffic controllers, said the FAA’s budget request is in stark contrast to its December 21 ATC controller workforce plan, in which it defined the goal of hiring 12,500 controllers over the next 10 years to offset a loss of 73 percent
of the controller workforce.

According to NATCA, the FAA revealed that there are only 14,934 controllers in the system today, down from 15,613 just a year ago. The union claimed that is the clearest proof yet that the agency’s plan to replace an aging workforce is too little, too late.

The Big Picture
Also expressing concern with the Bush budget is the National Air Transportation Association (NATA).

“I am concerned that the administration is neglecting to look at the big picture when it comes to analyzing our national aviation system,” said NATA president Jim Coyne. “Significantly cutting aviation funding at a time when Americans are returning to the skies in record numbers can have a far-reaching, negative effect on the industry.”

Pointing out that the $2.45 billion requested for F&E is $600 million less than Congress approved in the Vision-100 FAA reauthorization law, Coyne said the cuts will hinder modernization of the ATC system. “The President has some tough choices to make in this year’s budget proposal,” he said, “and hopefully the administration and congressional leaders can reach a compromise that includes more funding for FAA programs.”

AOPA is pleased there are no user fees targeted for general aviation for next year, adding that the budget proposal could have been a lot worse. “But if this budget survives Congress unchanged,” said association president Phil Boyer, “general aviation airports will take a disproportionate cut.”

AOPA said the other good news for GA is continued funding for WAAS and its promise of instrument approaches with vertical guidance into nearly every GA airport. “The administration is showing commitment to this program,” said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior v-p of government and technical affairs.

The FAA’s largest expense is for personnel, and the operations account was the only one to get an increase–up 4.5 percent to $8.2 billion.

About 71 percent of the FAA budget, or $9.8 billion, will contribute to safety, including further reductions in aviation accidents, deaths and injuries. Another 22 percent, or $3.1 billion, will support capacity growth. The remainder of the agency’s budget will support international leadership, environmental protection, internal security and the FAA’s effort to create a more efficient organization.

Of the money needed to fund the FAA, 89 percent will come from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, which is derived from excise taxes– passenger ticket taxes, fuel taxes and other taxes paid by airport and airway users–and interest. In FY2004, total tax revenue was $9.7 billion.

In FY2006, revenue is expected to increase to $11.9 million.