Stakeholders Debate NextGen Funding Options

 - June 5, 2014, 2:30 AM
Listening to Paul Rinaldi (center), president of Natca, at the Chamber of Commerce aviation summit are (from left) Ed Bolen, NBAA president and CEO; Robert Poole, director of transportation policy, Reason Foundation; Steve Van Beek, executive director policy and strategy, consulting firm Leigh Fisher; and moderator Robert Crandall, former chairman of American Airlines. Photo: Paul Lowe

A diverse panel of four aviation stakeholders kicked off the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 13th annual aviation summit this spring in Washington, D.C., with a lively discussion of NextGen that seemed to indicate that all sides are moving closer to consensus on how the system should be built and funded.

Addressing the question of “Why Don’t We Get It Done?” the group consisted of NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen; Robert Poole, a long-time advocate of commercializing the U.S. ATC system; Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (Natca); and Steve Van Beek, a former vice president of the Airports Council International-North America.

When the discussion touched upon the matter of whether privatizing the aviation system would be best for accelerating NextGen, Bolen warned that the concerns and criticism about the pace and cost of NextGen don’t justify a rush to privatize the world’s best aviation system.

“We don’t just ‘have to do it,’ we have to do it right,” he said. “Privatization is not a silver bullet. The space above our heads ought to remain publicly managed for the benefit of the public.”

Bolen asserted that the business aviation community has been forward-leaning in trying to accomplish NextGen. “I think where we diverge is in thinking that in order to get NextGen we have to privatize,” he said. “We cannot just assume that a model that works well in Canada or some other part of the world is going to work well here.”

Airlines Await Benefits

Among those attending the forum, held in the Washington Convention Center, were the CEOs of every major U.S. airline, along with other aviation industry leaders and top figures in government, including Transportation Security Administration Administrator John Pistole and former CIA director Michael Hayden.

In a keynote address, Airlines for America president and CEO Nicholas Calio highlighted the need to reform the ATC system and the lack of progress in implementing NextGen, in which airlines have already invested hundreds of millions of dollars that they are still waiting to see put to use for their benefit.

ATC reform can provide a broad-based approach to changing the governance, financing and delivery of service to travelers and suppliers,” he said. “Putting a new framework in place would be a long-overdue first step toward creating a system that is not dependent on an annual funding cycle that furloughs our air traffic controllers and leads to consistent delays.”

The first panel of the day also discussed the need for regulatory overhaul, particularly in processing certifications of new aircraft and aviation technologies. While Bolen acknowledged the challenges facing the FAA, he cited NextGen progress, including flight-approach improvements such as the “greener skies” initiatives in Atlanta and Seattle, and pointed to provisions in the most recent FAA reauthorization that are making possible a facilities consolidation process, beginning with an evaluation of ATC towers and other facilities.

Natca’s Rinaldi agreed, saying that the nation’s air traffic controllers support consolidation “that makes good business sense.” The process will get under way this year with 40 to 50 facilities, he said.