Industry vows to fight proposed FY09 budget

 - February 26, 2008, 6:00 AM

When the FAA unveiled its Fiscal Year 2009 budget, it was another sign that the budget battle and the threat of user fees is far from over. “What part of ‘no’ doesn’t the White House understand?” asked AOPA president Phil Boyer. “They just changed the dates and submitted essentially the same proposal as last year–a proposal soundly rejected by the general aviation community, the House and the Senate.”

The federal budget proposal for FY2009 (Oct. 1, 2008, to Sept. 30, 2009) would cut from the FAA budget nearly $1 billion, or 22 percent, from what Congress had approved for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP).

“Once again, the Bush Administration wants huge new taxes and user fees imposed on general aviation, and it wants to slash and burn the [AIP],” said Boyer. “To think that GA or Congress is going to treat this proposal any differently from the last one is, frankly, crazy and a waste of government resources in ideological posturing.”

NBAA also has opposed the Administration’s proposal, instead supporting funding–or reauthorization–for the FAA and aviation modernization through proposals that build on the current, proven fuel-tax system for FAA funding and aviation system modernization.

“Despite Congress’s saying ‘no’ to the Administration’s proposal to scrap the current funding mechanism for a less efficient one that imposes user fees, they have once again launched an effort to complete an FAA reauthorization bill by proposing the exact same failed plan,” said General Aviation Manufacturers Association president and CEO Pete Bunce.

“GAMA continues to categorically oppose user fees of all types on any segment of the aviation community,” he said. “We will continue our efforts with Congress to complete action this year on an FAA reauthorization bill, but quite frankly, the Administration’s pushing a financing scheme that Congress has already rejected makes our job tougher,” he added.

Congress also was nonplused. Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, and ranking Republican Tom Petri (R-Wis.) raised significant concerns about the FAA’s request for only $2.75 billion for the AIP– more than $1 billion less than the House authorized in H.R.2881, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2007. Costello noted that under the Administration’s proposal, “virtually every airport that currently receives AIP entitlement funding will have its funding reduced.”

Airports Council International-North America president Greg Principato said that the proposed cuts mean more congestion and delays. He added that the U.S. must increase its investment in infrastructure to upgrade a system that is “stretched” to its limit.

“Once again, the Bush Administration has taken a short-sighted approach to airport infrastructure funding in its proposed budget,” said American Association of Airport Executives president Chip Barclay.

With time running out on the latest extension of the FAA’s tax and contract authority, last month the House and Senate passed another extension that allows the FAA to collect ticket and fuel taxes and spend the money through June 30. The previous extension expired at the end of last month, and acting FAA Administrator Robert Sturgell had expressed concerns that he would have to furlough 4,000 employees the next day.

There is a growing consensus that because of these continuing extensions, there will be no reauthorization of the FAA this year.

At a House aviation subcommittee hearing, FAA CFO Ramesh Punwani reiterated that the Administration believes the requested funding level, coupled with an increase in passenger facility charges at airline airports, would be sufficient to meet identified goals. But Costello countered that he doubted any airport manager in the country would agree with that position.

Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said that under the proposed airport grant formula, virtually every airport’s entitlement funding will be reduced and small airports will be particularly hard hit by the Bush Administration’s proposed cut.

For FY2009, the Administration has “slightly” increased its aviation facilities and equipment program request to $2.72 billion, up from $2.46 billion in the FY2008 request, he said. While he called this a step in the right direction, he argued that it is not enough to meet the FAA’s goal of technologically transforming the ATC system.

According to Oberstar, the Administration’s preliminary cost estimate for NextGen is $3.246 billion, the funding level authorized by H.R.2881.