A five-year plan–four-fifths of which FAA Administrator Marion Blakey could actually see through to fruition–was laid out in draft form in late July for the aviation industry at a meeting at FAA headquarters in Washington. Titled Flight Plan 2004-2008, it sets as its goals: increased safety, greater capacity, international leadership and organizational excellence.
Blakey, who promised when she took office that her term would be driven by data and hard numbers, said the draft plan has specific and measurable goals. “We have costed out this strategic plan,” she told the industry representatives, admitting that “it has been painful. We had to do a double-check on what we can afford and what we can plan.” The final version will come out this month so that the FAA can begin acting on it by October 1.
One of the first casualties is the controller-pilot datalink communications (CPDLC) program, which has been placed on a back burner because of shifting funding priorities within the FAA. Blakey hinted when the FAA budget was announced earlier this year that CPDLC would be among the first programs affected by a slowdown, in part because of the current economic state of the airline industry. CPDLC has been under test by the FAA and American Airlines at the Miami en route center since late last year.
The five-year plan notes that financial difficulties facing the airlines and aviation manufacturers affect their ability and willingness to equip aircraft with the new technologies that will enhance safety and capacity.
Industry financial difficulties also affect the FAA, which is primarily funded by the Aviation Trust Fund from taxes on airline tickets and aviation fuels. As long as airline travel remains depressed, so too will the revenues available to the FAA. “Large capital investments in facility, infrastructure or staffing needs will depend largely on the ability and willingness of Congress to fund such operations and responsibilities," the agency said.