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Babbitt presses Congress, airlines to invest in NextGen
May 2, 2011
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  • April 28, 2011 By: Aaron Karp
    FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt cautioned that he is “concerned” the level of agency funding called for in the reauthorization bill recently passed by the House of Representatives would be too low and, if enacted, could “degrade” safety and efficiency.
    The House earlier this month passed a four-year, $59.7 billion FAA reauthorization bill that Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) said, “saves $4 billion by streamlining and consolidating FAA programs and facilities, increasing the use of cost-effective programs, and responsibly increasing the role of the private sector in facility operations” (ATW Daily News, April 4).
    Speaking Wednesday at the US Chamber of Commerce’s Aviation Summit, Babbitt pushed the House and Senate to soon pass a unified reauthorization bill that adequately funds the agency and establishes a fiscal path for the full implementation of the satellite-based NextGen ATC system. The 18th temporary extension of FAA funding expires at the end of May. “For over three-and-a-half years we’ve been operating on extensions,” Babbitt noted. “It’s been very difficult to run an agency on extensions É We need to restore long-term stability to funding.”
    The administrator gave a spirited defense of FAA’s progress in implementing NextGen, pressing Congress and airlines to make the necessary investments to realize the full benefits of ATC modernization. “This technology exists and it’s being utilized now,” he said, noting that continuous descent approach initiatives underway at select airports (ATW Daily News, July 26, 2010) are already yielding millions of dollars in annual fuel cost savings. He rejected the notion that NextGen is “some far off future É never-never land” concept. “NextGen is adding real dollars to the bottom lines of airlines É right now, not in the future,” he insisted. “I’m very confident that given the [appropriate level of] funding, given the support from the industry, we’re on track with NextGen.”
    Even considering US federal government budget restraints (ATW, March 1) and the fact that airlines are struggling to achieve consistent profitability, Babbitt said NextGen needs to be funded, which includes airlines spending the money to equip cockpits: “What’s it going to cost us not to do this? Can we afford not to redesign the airspace in the metroplexes in our country?”
    Also speaking at the Chamber of Commerce conference, Russ Chew, managing partner of NEXA Capital Partners and head of FAA’s Air Traffic Organization from 2003-2007, said, “There’s an institutional and political risk [in establishing NextGen] that’s just as significant to overcome as the financial risk. There’s an overall feeling [in Congress] that this is something we should move ahead on. [But] we haven’t been able to translate that into a tangible investment É We can’t be afraid to innovate.” He added that Congress should include as part of FAA reauthorization “some sort of program that allows government to jumpstart private capital” for NextGen aircraft equipage, such as loan guarantees.
    Speaking at the conference after Babbitt and Chew, US Airways Chairman and CEO Doug Parker said, “I am indeed a huge fan of NextGen. I’m just not a huge fan of paying for it.” He added, “The price tag [for equipping airline cockpits] looks É in excess of the benefits in aggregate.”

    Date: 2011-04-28