FAA administrator Michael Huerta told Congress “a lot is at stake” in crafting FAA reauthorization legislation, particularly regarding the implementation of the NextGen air traffic control (ATC) system.
In testimony Tuesday before the House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee, Huerta urged lawmakers to provide FAA with “stable long-term funding” and operational “flexibility” in reauthorization legislation set to be debated in Congress this year. FAA’s authorization expires Sept. 30, 2015.
“We can’t afford a ‘business as usual’ approach, especially if we want to maintain US global influence,” Huerta said. “We need reauthorization to allow the FAA to better align our resources with the needs of the NAS [National Airspace System] by providing the FAA greater flexibility to modify our service levels to support changing industry demand, and by establishing a collaborative, transparent and binding process to modernize FAA’s facilities and equipment and match our footprint to the demand for air travel.”
House T&I Committee chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) and aviation subcommittee chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-New Jersey) both said they do not want a repeat of the last FAA reauthorization, which was passed after more than four years of rancorous debate, 23 temporary extensions and a partial FAA shutdown. The previous reauthorization process “resulted in instability and uncertainty for the agency, industry stakeholders and the flying public,” LoBiondo said. “Chairman Shuster and I have repeatedly pledged that such actions will not happen again.”
However, both Shuster and LoBiondo expressed displeasure at the pace with which the satellite-based NextGen system is being rolled out. “We critically need to modernize the ATC system, something the FAA has been working on since the beginning of the Reagan administration,” Shuster said. “Unfortunately, we have too little to show for it except for cost overruns and delays. As a result, many stakeholders have understandably lost confidence in FAA’s ability to modernize.” He called for “significant reforms in the next FAA bill.”
Huerta said that “the network of FAA facilities, infrastructure and technology is aging and sprawling and needs to be addressed,” noting that past “short-term reauthorization extensions have hurt the FAA’s ability to efficiently perform our mission, and have impeded our ability to commit to long-term investments.” He said FAA needs “stable, long-term funding to effectively operate our air traffic control system, invest in NextGenand efficiently recapitalize our aging facilities. This would best be achieved with the passage of a long-term reauthorization bill that establishes stable long-term funding to provide the certainty necessary to plan and implement long-term projects.”
Huerta said reauthorization should provide a framework for “collaborative efforts with industry stakeholders to implement NextGen,” adding, “We need to continue to ensure that industry makes timely and necessary equipage investments to maximize the widespread deployment of NextGen.”
When questioned by skeptical lawmakers about why Congress should continue to stand by NextGen given the slow rate of implementation, Huerta responded, “I’d encourage you to hang in there. We are seeing significant benefits all around the country” from NextGen initiatives.