US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, speaking yesterday at the FAA Aviation Forecast Conference in Washington, said President Barack Obama’s administration will “soon” make a decision on whether to allocate federal funds to equip commercial aircraft with NextGen ATC technology such as ADS-B.
Responding to a question from ATWOnline, LaHood confirmed that “there is an interest” at high levels of the administration in using federal money to equip aircraft. “We’ve had many, many meetings with the White House and they’re interested in being helpful,” he said. “We have the attention of the White House on trying to be helpful to the airline industry.”
FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt previously has said that the government is considering providing airlines with money for equipage that would be “subject to repayment” (ATWOnline, Dec. 9, 2009). LaHood yesterday said he did not want to get into the details of “the game plan” for equipping aircraft, but noted, “I know that the airlines can ill-afford to spend the kind of money that is necessary.”
Speaking at the conference prior to LaHood, Air Transport Assn. President and CEO James May said airlines are “not convinced” there is a “business case” to support the industry’s spending money to equip aircraft for NextGen. He added that it would be “perfectly appropriate for the government to help . . . in underwriting equipage,” estimating that it would cost $5-$6 billion to get “the fundamental fleet equipped for NextGen.” He called it a “a crime” that the US government committed around $8 billion of last year’s $787 billion stimulus package to developing a high-speed rail system while not allocating “equivalent” money for ATC modernization.
LaHood told the conference that the airline industry would be making a mistake to “be against high-speed rail,” adding, “It’s coming to America. This is the president’s vision, the vice president’s vision. . .We’re going to get into the high-speed rail business. . .People want alternatives. People are still going to fly, but we need alternatives.” He admonished the airline industry to “get with the program.”
Speaking to reporters at the conference following LaHood’s comments, American Airlines Chairman and CEO Gerard Arpey said, “I got the message. But [high-speed rail is] not the system today. We need to keep the system today vibrant. . .Aviation is the backbone of our economy today.” Noting that he was “dumbfounded” NextGen was not included in the stimulus, he said federal funds should be used for aircraft equipage, which he described as ATC “infrastructure” that the airline industry “can’t or won’t build on its own.” He estimated that equipping AA’s fleet would cost “hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Source: AIR TRANSPORT WORLD