FAA awaits new funding authorization

 - October 31, 2007, 10:06 AM

While many NBAA members were in Atlanta partaking of the association’s recent convention, senior vice president of operations Steve Brown was in Washington on Capitol Hill defending business aviation against assertions by the airlines that GA was partly responsible for record-setting flight delays.

He told the House aviation subcommittee it “should not lose sight of one central point: that airline delays are basically a self-inflicted wound that is a byproduct of their business practices at major hub airports.

“The U.S. Department of Transportation’s own reports contradict the numerous, erroneous allegations from the nation’s big airlines over the past several months attempting to blame record delays and increasing congestion on the business aviation community,” he told the House aviation subcommittee.

In his appearance before Congress, Brown argued that the airlines’ own scheduling practices are second only to adverse weather as a cause of delays. He pointed out that the GA community remains focused on the real issue: expanding system capacity because “when capacity becomes constrained, general aviation is usually the first segment to be pushed out.”

General aviation, he pointed out, has embraced new technologies that help increase system capacity and it supports legislation to modernize the ATC system.

Brown is well qualified to speak on such topics. Before joining NBAA, he was associate administrator for the FAA’s Air Traffic Services. “Based on my years managing the airspace, when there are capacity issues in the air, it’s usually because of the problems being caused by airline hub operation on the ground at congested airports,” he said.

Throughout the summer, the Air Transport Association (ATA), which represents the airlines, blamed a surge in corporate jet and small general aviation traffic for bottlenecks throughout the National Airspace System. The ATA and the Bush Administration want Congress to finance the FAA and ATC modernization through a series of user fees.

The House of Representatives sent a resounding “no” to both the airlines and the White House when it passed its FAA reauthorization bill (H.R.2881) on September 20. The bill contains no user fees and no concessions to the airlines, but it does modestly increase the taxes on jet-A and avgas.

With the Senate dragging its feet on its version of an FAA funding bill, and faced with an expiration of the current agency funding on September 30, the House passed an extension until November 16 to provide a little breathing room so that aviation taxes can continue to be collected and the FAA can continue spend the money it needs to operate. Shortly before the Columbus Day recess, the Senate did the same.

Although the Senate Finance Committee has approved its FAA reauthorization bill (S.1300) tax provisions, which more closely mirror those of the House, a $25-per-flight user fee on turbine-powered aircraft remains. Assuming that the bill finally passes the Senate in its current form, a House/Senate conference committee would attempt to reconcile the differences.

Other uncertainties remain as the FAA reauthorization legislation continues circling in a holding pattern. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters appeared at the NBAA Convention’s opening ceremonies in Atlanta and voiced disapproval of the House bill. After the gathering, NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen said it is unclear whether President Bush would veto a final version of FAA reauthorization if it failed to incorporate some form of user fees.

Also threatening to draw a Bush veto is a provision in the House bill that would force the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association to reopen their disputed contract, which then-FAA Administrator Marion Blakey put into force last summer.