As Capitol Hill continues to mull prospects for a massive multi-modal infrastructure package, NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen urged lawmakers to continue investment and maintain laws to protect airports, continue to build on NextGen, foster remote tower technologies, and to preserve funding streams. Bolen outlined these and other business aviation priorities in a recent letter to leaders of the House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee.
“The U.S. leads the world in having the most robust and diverse airport infrastructure capabilities, providing a critical foundation for general aviation to thrive,” Bolen said in his letter T&I chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) and ranking member Sam Graves (R-Missouri), who asked stakeholders for input on infrastructure priorities.
Methods of funding are critical, he added, noting that most programs are paid for through the Airport and Airway Trust Fund (AATF). Supported through taxes and fees, the AATF is estimated to reach cash balances of nearly $60 billion over the next decade. These taxes have provided a stable revenue stream that is simple to administer and collect, he said, But, Bolen noted proposals that have sought to alter the funding stream. “Maintaining the AATF and associated taxes is the best approach to funding our future aviation infrastructure needs,” he said.
Bolen also pointed to an increasing number of communities that have attempted to restrict access to airports through various means such as curfews and weight and noise limits, to gain local control. “However, airports are part of a national aviation-transportation system,” he said, adding grant obligations play an important role in preventing a patchwork of local restrictions and closures. “We request that policies remain in place—and are enforced in practice—to protect both federal funds and interests at airports.”
Further, Bolen endorsed the expansion of airport improvement program grant use on technologies such as remote towers and safety enhancements for drone integration. He additionally called for continued investment in airport infrastructure, including general aviation airports, as well as NextGen technologies.
Another key need of investment, Bolen added, is human infrastructure. “One of the significant barriers to entry for those seeking a career in aviation is the cost of training,” he said, noting the maximum federal financial aid available is well below the cost of flight training. “We believe there are opportunities for the Committee to grow our human infrastructure by supporting the creation of a program that provides dedicated funding to educational institutions which have aviation education programs,” he said. “This funding could be used to support the acquisition of flight simulators, training aircraft, and for scholarships.”