"The U.S. airline industry cannot sustain its vital role of transporting people and goods, and continue to be a national economic engine, if the government infrastructure that it depends on— the Air Traffic Control (ATC) system— remains an impediment to efficiency and growth,” said Air Transport Association (ATA) President and CEO James C. May in recent testimony before the Subcommittee on Aviation of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The subcommittee is examining reauthorization of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) programs.
“It is imperative that Congress enable FAA to move forward promptly with its NextGen (technology) modernization program and authorize its acceleration through NowGen, which will deliver many of NextGen’s benefits much sooner,” said May. “Now is the time for all of us to work together to make ATC modernization a national priority. A modernized system will stimulate the nation’s economy, create jobs, yield environmental benefits and enable U.S. airlines to compete effectively against global competitors.”
May said today’s outdated ATC system significantly contributes to delays and disruptions that could be avoided when NextGen is implemented. A modernized, satellite-based system will reduce the more than $40 billion that delays cost the economy, the airlines and their passengers. In contrast to today’s ATC system, a modernized system will enable planes to fly more direct, efficient routes, significantly reducing fuel burn and emissions.
In his testimony, May said that FAA reauthorization legislation should embrace new thinking and new ideas about infrastructure funding. This includes giving the FAA bonding authority to issue tax credit bonds, making NextGen eligible for funding from a National Infrastructure Bank, and significantly increasing general fund contributions. This process should involve all stakeholders, according to May.
May also noted that airlines and their customers— through passenger facility charges (PFCs), airport improvement program (AIP) funds and rates and charges combined— spend nearly $13 billion annually underwriting airport expenses.
“We don’t question the airports’ need for sufficient funds, but in today’s economic environment, their continued push for higher PFCs and AIP funds is out of sync with economic reality,” said May. “This FAA reauthorization legislative process offers an opportunity for Congress to make aviation a priority by establishing a strong, forward-looking national aviation policy. Congress should take advantage of this opportunity.”
ATA says that it is possible to fully transform the system in the next few years. “By accelerating several key NextGen components and investing in proven technologies and related procedures, much of NextGen can be transformed into NowGen to deliver immediate benefits," May said. "But ATA believes it is time to alter the traditional approach to funding FAA operations and infrastructure development. The principle of fair and equitable funding of the ATC system should be imbedded in reauthorization legislation. What groups pay for ATC services should be aligned with their consumption of those services.”