Industry leaders are hoping to see progress on sweeping FAA reauthorization legislation, highlighting during NATA’s Annual Meeting and Aviation Business Conference Wednesday important provisions in the bill surrounding FAA funding, NextGen support, and delegation reforms. But the timing of such progress is still uncertain.
GAMA president and CEO Pete Bunce told conference attendees that the emphasis is to “get ‘er done,” because progress will become more difficult if consideration gets pushed into a lame duck session following the elections. If not done by the end of the year, the reauthorization process would need to start over again with new bills.
Bunce and other general aviation leaders speaking during Wednesday’s NATA conference pointed to key measures in the FAA reauthorization and funding bills. These include language to ensure the FAA fully takes advantage of delegation authority. “In Flight Standards, we have a logjam,” Bunce said, noting that the bills include language to improve their processes.
NBAA COO Steve Brown emphasized a need to push Congress for the longest possible reauthorization period to ensure stable funding for the FAA. He added that NBAA is pushing for concepts to help ensure steady funding.
Mark Baker, president and CEO of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, stressed the need for support for continued expansion of NextGen initiatives such as Data Comm, but also the need to ease small airports' access to funding. He noted that millions set aside for small airports go unspent because of regulatory barriers. That money then reverts to the general pot of funds for airports and will get used elsewhere. This is particularly important, he added, because a healthy airport system is necessary to encourage growth in the pilot population.
As for Airport Improvement Program funding overall, Joel Bacon, executive v-p, government and public affairs for the American Association of Airport Executives, expressed concern that current bills would either keep funding levels flat or provide for a modest increase—far short of what is needed for airport infrastructure development and maintenance. This affects both large and small airports, he said. Bacon encouraged attendees to push for increased funding and also made a pitch for increased passenger facility charges.
On the rotorcraft front, HAI president and CEO Matt Zuccaro said he would like to see more funding paid into the system by helicopter operators dedicated to helicopter operators. Helicopters do not need more runways, he said, noting they need a network of heliports.
While the industry leaders noted that the push on Capitol Hill to privatize the U.S. air traffic control system has halted for now, they agreed they fully expect the concept to resurface again.
“General aviation successfully defeated privatization of the ATC, but I think everyone in this room and everyone on this panel would agree that’s a fight that will continue to go on over time. We’re not sure that we’ll ever actually kill that dragon,” said NATA president Marty Hiller.