The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has no choice but to cut the services it provides or raise more money over the next decade, according to an FAA executive involved in planning the agency’s next reauthorization. Rich Swayze, assistant administrator for policy, international affairs and environment, delivered the somber message on October 8 to the blue-ribbon committee advising the FAA on its ambitious NextGen ATC modernization effort.
“We can’t continue to provide the services we provide, implement NextGen and recapitalize aging infrastructure without cutting programs or raising revenue,” Swayze told the NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC), meeting in Washington, D.C. “It’s that simple.”
Swayze is involved in planning the FAA’s next long-term authorization by Congress once its current operating authority, embodied in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, expires in September next year. In a briefing to the NAC, he presented an “Operations Account Outyear Profile” that shows the FAA running a $5 billion deficit by Fiscal Year 2022 when aligning its projected operating costs versus its funding. The deficit widens if the automatic “sequestration” budget cuts Congress has imposed remain in place.
Swayze, a former top aviation aide to the Senate Commerce Committee before joining the FAA earlier this year, said the agency will need more funding and “budgeting stability” if Congress simultaneously imposes fiscal constraints and requires it to operate and maintain the national airspace system. A divided Congress passed 23 short-term funding extensions before finally reauthorizing the FAA in 2012. “It’s impossible to long-term plan if your budget is bouncing around,” said Swayze. “The point I’m trying to make is we have a big problem here we have to manage out of.”
The NAC, a high level industry-government committee assembled by the federal advisory organization RTCA, has identified priority programs and locations designed to quickly demonstrate the efficiency and fuel-saving benefits of the NextGen modernization. But even setting priorities will not lessen the agency’s long-term financial burden, said Edward Bolton, FAA assistant administrator for NextGen. Bolton said the agency’s budget has been cut back by a half billion to $1 billion annually in recent years. “You can’t prioritize your way out of that,” he told the committee. “The older (equipment) gets, the harder it is to sustain.”
The FAA’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget request is for $15.4 billion, including $9.75 billion for operations, a 1-percent increase over the previous-year enacted level; $2.6 billion for facilities and equipment, steady with previous spending; and $774 million for NextGen, 6.5 percent below the fiscal 2014 enacted budget.