May 19, 2011 By Aaron Karp
US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the Obama administration is “committed” to finding a way to finance equipage of commercial aircraft cockpits with NextGen ATC-capable technology, though he declined to provide specifics and conceded a solution is not likely until after Congress passes an FAA reauthorization bill.
“The administration is committed to being helpful to the airlines” regarding NextGen equipage, LaHood told ATW after delivering a Tuesday afternoon keynote address to the Regional Airline Assn. Annual Convention in Nashville. “First we need an FAA bill. Once that is done, we’ll sit down with the airlines and try to figure out how to get technology in the cockpit.”
There have been calls for a NextGen equipage financing mechanism, such as federal loan guarantees, to be included in FAA reauthorization legislation (ATW Daily News, April 28), but LaHood’s comments indicate that a deal on government support for aircraft equipage would likely come after Congress clears an FAA bill.
The Senate and House of Representatives are currently trying to reach agreement on a unified FAA reauthorization bill that both chambers could pass and send to President Barack Obama for signature into law. The agency has been operating via a series of 18 temporary funding extensions since its authorization officially expired on Sept. 30, 2007, and the latest extension expires May 31. Lawmakers have already drafted another temporary extension to be passed if a reauthorization bill can’t be agreed to by the deadline.
With FAA funding extended for just months at a time, “you can’t really allocate the money to do the kinds of improvements at airports that we want,” LaHood told the RAA conference. He added that Senate and House negotiators are down to “just a few items under dispute” and predicted an FAA bill will be passed “sooner rather than later.”
While LaHood said the Obama administration is leaving the negotiating over details largely to Congress, he emphasized that it is opposed to efforts by House Republicans to phase out the Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes airline service to rural communities. The administration is “pushing very, very hard to make sure we have a strong EIS,” LaHood said. “That is something we will stick with.”
He said an FAA reauthorization law is needed to provide a long-term “blueprint for NextGen, for EIS, for AIP [Airport Improvement Program].”
Source: AIR TRANSPORTATION WORLD