By Charles Spence
February 10, 2011
Washington,D.C. – Leaders of seven aviation organizations appeared before a House of Representatives subcommittee Wednesday and were asked to examine their requirements and see where money can be cut in the FAA’s budget that would not affect safety or efficiency.
Members from both sides of the aisle expect cuts in appropriations for both the Senate and House to finally agree on a reauthorization bill after 17 short extensions.
Craig Fuller, president of the more than 400,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), told the representatives that budget reductions might be necessary. He warned, however, to be aware of the “unintentional consequences” of straight cuts without taking into consideration the effect these cuts would have on other actions. Fuller also testified that the next generation air traffic system (NextGen) must have clearly defined and widely available benefits as an incentive for both airlines and general aviation to equip. He suggested financial incentives for general aviation to equip for NextGen, which might include federal guarantees of equipage. Stabilization of the FAA is important to let the agency move ahead on NextGen with the least disruption and expenditures, he added.
Pete Bunce, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), also cited the need for long-term funding, adding, like Fuller, that GA was willing to a increase fuel taxes 25% on avgas and 65% on non-commercial jet fuel instead of user fees.
Other members of the panel, plus numbers of the subcommittee, said the public should be informed that more than 75% of the money going to aviation from the trust fund comes from these fuel taxes and airline passenger taxes and not from the general fund. Fuller and other members of the panel commented that money for airport development and improvement should be left in the local communities nearer the people who use the airports than to have it administered by the FAA.
Kelly Johnson, vice president of the American Association of Airport Executives, urged elimination of the local tax on passenger facility charges to let airports work more efficiently and faster knowing what local communities need. She also said the need to include Essential Air Service to small communities is vital to the nation’s economy.
Several members of the subcommittee stressed the essential position general aviation has in the nation’s economy, but seemed resigned to accepting deep cuts in federal expenditures. Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.) asked all members of the panel to look at their organizations and suggest ways to cut. “We have been charged by our constituents to do more with less,” he said. Cravaack is a former airline and Navy helicopter pilot.
Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa), also a long-time pilot, suggested all groups closely look to see where and how the Congress can cut funds from the air transportation system without danger.
The ranking member of the subcommittee, Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), reiterated the plea for all groups to help the FAA and Congress with ways expenses can be cut, adding that it is important that “we make certain cuts are in the right place.”
While both Houses of Congress want to get a long-term bill passed quickly, the major differences between the Republicans and Democrats on the committees could make passage of a single bill difficult before the present extension expires March 31. Many in the Senate do not agree with the House’s call for budget cuts. Four Democratic Senators wrote a letter to Republican leaders citing this difference. “We share your concerns about our nation’s debt and are willing to work with you,” they said, “but will not accept any amendment that puts the safety of Americans at risk and hinders economic growth.”
Safety is always the word for the FAA. As an executive of the FAA commented on one occasion: “Even when we need a new broom we say it’s because of safety.