NBAA: Balance Security and Economy

 - October 9, 2007, 9:07 AM

With the first hints that the Bush Administration is considering raiding the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) to help fund security-related expenses in 2003, NBAA has more lobbying work cut out for it in the current session of Congress.

“The issue we are challenged with right now,” said Pete West, NBAA’s senior v-p for government affairs, “is trying to balance the legitimate security concerns and focus with the legitimate, extremely important needs of the economy.”

Although the use of aviation as a terrorist tool rocked the industry to its very core, he suggested that the events of September 11 served to highlight the value of aviation to the economy, social well being and quality of life in the U.S.

West had just returned from the FAA General Aviation Forecast Conference when he talked with AIN, and he said the FAA has projected that it could take as long as three years for the aviation system to return to pre-September traffic levels.

“It is expected by most that within three years, we will be back to the previous high demand,” he said. “Hopefully, we will have taken advantage of the three years to get further along on infrastructure enhancements on the ground and in the sky, and in terms of attracting qualified personnel. In other words, we will have invested in that appropriately.”

Regardless of the current sparring over security funding, debate is about to commence on Capitol Hill on setting the FAA’s budget for fiscal year 2004, which actually begins on Oct. 1, 2003. The Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR-21), which authorized more than $40 billion for the FAA for FY 2001-2003, expires on Sept. 30, 2003.

“We are now focused on the reauthorization process,” said West. “The challenge was always going to be there when that time arrived, but now–with the necessity of balancing the security part of the equation with the need to modernize and improve the aviation infrastructure–we’ve got quite a balancing act to do.”

The new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has already asked Congress for a supplemental appropriation of more than $4 billion, and there have been predictions that the agency could end up hiring upwards of 72,000 employees, up from original estimates of about 30,000. There is also concern that the FAA is considering using the entire $3.3 billion in AIP funds to install explosive detection systems (EDS) at airports.

According to West, House Transportation and Infrastructure chairman Don Young (R-Alaska), who was instrumental in crafting the Aviation and Transportation Security Act that created the TSA, planned to put the TSA and its parent Transportation Department on notice that they should not stifle commerce in the name of security. Along those same lines, the NBAA senior vice president said the association continues to be “focused like a laser” on the issue of regaining business aviation access to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). It has been closed to all forms of private aviation since September 11.

NBAA is working on access “not just because our members want to be able to fly in there, versus Dulles [International Airport] or somewhere else,” he said. “It really is in large part the symbolism that this is the nation’s airport.”

NBAA is basing much of its case for “qualified” general aviation aircraft to resume using DCA on the “inherent, well proven security procedures” of business aviation. “We are confident that a vast majority of our member companies, who are part of a security culture that has been around for decades,” West argued, “clearly should be [accommodated] because of their ability to offer that security capability to address any concerns the security forces have.”

NBAA is also supporting GA relief bills to help compensate general aviation businesses that sustained losses from September 11, because the money might help lower sky-high insurance premiums, along with other provisions.

West is convinced that the terrorists purposely chose aviation as their weapon because the expected ripple effect on the entire aviation industry would damage the American economy and society. “It is absolutely essential that this country elevate aviation to the level of a national imperative,” he said. “It is so much a part of our economic and social fabric.”

He recalled how Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and NBAA president Jack Olcott both said on separate occasions, without being aware of each other’s comments, that aviation is critical to this country’s satisfying its economic and social objectives.

“Business aviation is a critical, integral part of that equation,” West asserted, and that is the message being highlighted on Capitol Hill, to the Bush Administration, on state and local government levels, worldwide, to the media and the general public– “any way and everywhere we can.”

On the international stage, NBAA is continuing its efforts to promote business aviation, especially in emerging markets. “We are obviously clearly focused on the opportunities that exist in the global scene,” said West, “such as improving the [airport access] situation in Japan and the vastly improving situation in China, where the Chinese recognize the value of general aviation–and specifically business aviation–toward opening up the western part of China to development.”

He said NBAA is also focusing on the international community on a regulatory front, as well as winning more acceptance of business aviation globally–not only through international visitors to its annual meeting and convention, but also through the European Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition (EBACE) held last month in Geneva and new initiatives in other parts of the world, such as the Latin American Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition (LABACE) to be held in São Paulo, Brazil, in January.

The association, along with other business groups, has successfully convinced the Japanese government to open more landing slots for business jets at Tokyo’s two airports. The city’s Haneda Airport, which heretofore was closed to international operations, is now permitting about 16 landings an hour in the overnight hours, although West conceded that it still requires “some ponderous procedures in terms of advance notification of your plans.”

He said the U.S.-Japan Business Council agreed that one of its top priorities would be improved access for international business aircraft. Narita International Airport soon added a couple of additional slots before progress slowed.

“But there was interesting competition in that part of the world, where China was waking up because of efforts by NBAA, GAMA and certain [U.S] government authorities–the Departments of Commerce and State and the FAA,” West explained. “We had this U.S.-China symposium that we sponsored in late 2000, and the Chinese realized that general aviation would be a key factor in opening up Western markets.”

The Chinese “all of a sudden” began making it clear that they wanted to be the business aviation hub, he said, and the Japanese realized they needed to facilitate business aviation operations at Haneda and Narita instead of prohibiting them. “China, because of its interest in the West, and the Japanese, because of their struggling economy, are realizing that facilitating such operations is a critical factor in trade success,” he said.

Meanwhile, West said NBAA is working inside the U.S. at the state and local levels on airport access and noise issues, and on the world stage in terms of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s plans for Stage 4 noise rules, what to do about Stage 2 aircraft still operating and the dispute between the U.S. and the European Union over hush kits.

And with the tenure of current FAA Administrator Jane Garvey set to expire this August, he said, one of the most important challenges facing the next Administrator will be to reestablish the important role that the FAA plays in running the National Airspace System (NAS) vs letting the TSA and the security forces take total control over it.