ATA Urges Congress to Act on Air Traffic Control

Funding for acceleration and deployment of the next generation of air traffic control (“NextGen”) capabilities, equipage and procedures will create job growth, a group of major travel and aviation industry associations said in a letter to key members of Congress. NextGen involves a fundamental transition from a ground-based aviation infrastructure system (radar) to a satellite-based system enabling both controllers and flight crews to utilize more accurate real-time information. 

"The public benefits of accelerated NextGen are numerous and widely agreed upon: improved safety, job creation and retention, shorter flight times, reduced delays, and significant environmental benefits, including fewer carbon emissions, and less noise and improved local air quality," the Air Transport Association (ATA) said. "Congress should seize this opportunity to expedite NextGen capabilities and to provide a platform for domestic job creation thereby ensuring that the civil aviation and travel industries— which directly and indirectly generate over ten million jobs and $1.2 trillion in economic activity annually—can continue to positively contribute to growth in the domestic economy."

The letter was addressed to James Oberstar, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and John Mica, the ranking member of the committee and stressed the importance of modernizing the Air Traffic Control System.

"As you know, our industries have experienced several shocks since the terrorist attacks of 2001, including a massive spike in oil prices and the current economic downturn, ATA said. "As a result, many of our companies have been forced to lay off valued employees. Since 2000, passenger carriers have shed almost 155,000 jobs, bringing us to our 1993 levels of employment. Manufacturers have sustained significant job losses and a slowdown in orders, deliveries, and production schedules. General aviation (GA) flying has decreased by as much as 35 percent. The inventory of used GA airplanes available for sale reached an all-time high. Prices for GA airplanes have declined by 40 percent, and employment at leading general aviation companies has fallen by as much as 50 percent.

"Currently, the aerospace industry provides a significant positive contribution to our balance of trade," the ATA's statement continues. "However, the U.S. competitive position is being challenged by other countries like the European Union, Australia and Canada, which are outpacing us in implementing NextGen. Other countries like China and India will look to either the U.S. or Europe for leadership as they develop their air traffic control system. If the U.S. does not demonstrate leadership in deploying these technologies, opportunities for U.S. manufacturers and workers will be lost.

"Accelerated NextGen funding will drive the nation’s economic recovery and stimulate job growth across all sectors," the ATA says. "The Joint Economic Committee has estimated that airline delays and congestion cost $40 billion in lost productivity and time for passengers and our economy. Solving the congestion and delay problems through more direct flights and increased efficiencies will increase productivity across the nation and put a serious dent in that $40 billion of lost productivity."

NextGen deployment will employ engineers, software developers and other high-tech workers to support a transition from a ground-based radar infrastructure system to a satellite based infrastructure. In addition, pilots and other aviation jobs such as maintenance and installation jobs will benefit. A viable aviation sector enhances economic activity in a wide number of industries outside aviation including, among many others, travel and tourism and industries that rely on just-in-time global inventories and shipping capability.

"Expedited NextGen investment will eliminate a significant drag on the nation’s economy and transform aviation into a powerful job creator in the near-term," the ATA sates. "With a commitment to fund expedited NextGen, we can provide a short term economic boost, and also provide the infrastructure which will lead to long term efficiencies and economic growth.”