The 2003 Budget: From the Outside Looking In

 - March 25, 2008, 7:16 AM

The 2003 Budget in Brief is, as the title implies, brief, but its complexity still leads the aviation alphabet groups to cherrypick for comment, while news media reveal their opinions through select editing. Few readers study the original text, yielding conclusions that range from focused to false.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (Natca) was “angered and disappointed” at applying private-sector standards under the performance-based organization (PBO). President John Carr called the work of air traffic control “inherently governmental”  and privatization “ludicrous,” with implications for safety as being “reckless.”  He noted Nav Canada’s request for a 6-percent fee increase due to revenue shortfalls, and difficulties in the UK’s partly privatized system. Carr said that ATC performance in clearing the airspace on September 11 was proof of their seamless efforts, and balked at the idea of ATC as a franchise. “Look, this is not Burger King,” he said.

Jim Coyne, president of the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), praised the Bush budget for funding guarantees established within AIR-21 for airport development and infrastructure, and for security programs. Coyne combined his praise for Bush with a promise of vigilance. “I am pleased to see the Bush Administration recognize the importance of aviation dollars being spent only for aviation purposes, as the historic AIR-21 agreement mandates.”

The Helicopter Association International (HAI) reported that the $4.8 billion budget for the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) would go toward aviation security. The TSA, though, is also charged with protecting seaports, waterways, railways, highways and pipelines. HAI cited testimony by TSA Secretary John Magaw at a February 5 Senate hearing that the TSA was underfunded. The group also worries that the Department of Interior’s expansion to $376 million for the National Wildlife Refuge system would jeopardize support for Arctic oil exploration. HAI criticized the proposed reduction for the U.S. Forest Service, since members would stand to lose the associated survey and firefighting work.

At press time neither GAMA nor NBAA planned any immediate comment on the budget, either preferring to continue with ongoing lobbying efforts or to respond to myriad congressional adjustments expected in the weeks ahead.

AOPA’s Phil Boyer was pleased that the budget did not seek user fees, but like NATCA he fretted about “storm clouds” of a privatized ATC that might form after the first year evaluation. AOPA highlighted the 1.6-percent decrease in FAA funding given the shift of security to the TSA, but failed to mention the overall increase in the FAA budget by 1.7 percent, which leaves funding relatively flat.

The biweekly newsletter Inside FAA, from Inside Washington Publishers, boldly headlined the shift of $458 million in FAA funds to the TSA, but like AOPA it made no mention of the corresponding increases. Inside FAA reported the proposed $18 million for the Operational Evolution Plan, which is the agency’s 10-year blueprint for a 30-percent increase in efficiency and capacity in the ATC system by 2010, but the publication bemoaned the proposed loss of $85 million for ATC.