Airport Trust Fund faces shortfall, GAO warns

 - March 31, 2009, 4:54 AM

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned last month that the excise taxes that feed the Airport and Airway Trust Fund have been lower than previously forecast, while estimates of future revenues have declined because of a drop in passenger traffic, fares and fuel consumption. Meanwhile, the uncommitted balance in the trust fund has been decreasing since Fiscal Year 2001. So, for the short run, lower-than-expected excise taxes will reduce the balance even further and could affect funding for this year and next.

In the longer run, continued declines in trust fund revenues could require Congress to cut spending on FAA operations and capital projects, or increase revenues for the trust fund by introducing new fees, increasing taxes or increasing the portion of the FAA’s funding provided by the General Fund. Currently, about 75 percent of the agency’s annual budget comes from the Aviation Trust Fund. The General Fund provides the remainder of the funds.

During last month’s testimony before the House Appropriations subcommittee on transportation, the agency also called for a “timely” reauthorization of FAA programs that expired at the end of FY07 and have continued under a series of short-term extensions. Such measures could delay key capital projects and might affect the FAA’s progress toward NextGen. As the primary implementer of NextGen, the FAA faces challenges that could potentially create a gap between the demand for air transportation and available capacity, the GAO said.