General aviation advocates are pleased the Obama administration’s budget request did not include user fees even as it seeks to step up investment in the Next Generation air transportation system (NextGen). The administration yesterday unveiled an $18.66 billion fiscal 2012 budget request for FAA, including a boost in funding for NextGen modernization and a recommendation for the addition of 106 new safety inspectors and data analysts.
The announcement came as welcome news to general aviation organizations. While the budget proposal was not expected to include user fees, general aviation groups worried that the strong push to hold down spending could have spurred the Obama administration to look at other means to fund FAA programs. The Obama administration in past has called for up to $9.6 billion in user fees.
“While it will take time to analyze the full impact of the president’s budget,” says National Business Aviation Association President and CEO Ed Bolen, “NBAA is encouraged that it demonstrates a commitment to maintaining a national network of airports of all sizes across the country and increases funding for the transition to…NextGen while relying on the proven and efficient fuel tax instead of user fees.”
Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association President and CEO Craig Fuller expressed similar sentiments. “Our initial reading indicates that the president has recognized the need to modernize our aviation system while maintaining critical infrastructure – all funded by a tried-and-true system of excise taxes and general fund contributions,” he says. “All of us in the general aviation finding this encouraging.”
The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) welcome the President’s budget request, especially his commitment to NextGen. “We look forward to working with the Administration and Congress to make certain that these NextGen investments are made,” says President Pete Bunce. “It is also critical that FAA has the certification resources available so that general aviation manufacturers can create jobs by getting new, innovative products to market.”
Airports groups were less encouraged by a proposed cut in the baseline Airport Improvement Program (AIP) budget, from $3.5 billion to $2.4 billion. “By gutting the AIP, the administration’s budget proposal fails to provide the resources necessary to provide and secure facilities that reduce passenger delays and inconvenience,” says Airports Council International- North America President Greg Principato.
AOPA and NBAA note that the budget does move to preserve funding for smaller commercial and general aviation airports. The budget specifies the reduction in AIP funding will come from large- and medium-hub airports.
Airports funding, however, would receive a one-time $3.1 billion boost through an administration proposal that calls for a $50 billion “up-front economic boost” for roads, rails and runways. That would be paid through the general fund.
FAA’s operations would be funded at $9.823 billion, up nearly $500 million from the revised fiscal 2011 budget of $9.350 billion. The operations budget includes funding for the additional safety inspectors, something that the General Aviation Manufacturers Association has long sought to help with the certification of its member’s products.
Under the administration proposal, the Airport and Airways Trust Fund would cover $4.958 billion of FAA operations, while the general fund contribution would decline to $4.865 billion (from the revised fiscal 2011 budget of $5.35 billion).
The general aviation groups also note the acceleration of NextGen funding, which would be aided in part by $250 million from the Administration’s $50 billion in “economic boost” funds. The additional $250 million would bring the Administration Facilities and Equipment recommendation to $3.1 billion, up slightly from the revised fiscal 2011 budget of $2.936 billion.
GA groups also note FAA’s proposal to establish a National Infrastructure Bank that would guarantee private loans to help airlines equip for NextGen. But Lorraine Howerton, AOPA VP of legislative affairs notes, “Unfortunately it does not say anything about providing similar assistance to general aviation operators.”
AOPA adds that has sought parity for equipping for NextGen. “For NextGen to really work, the industry needs to ensure that the maximum number of aircraft is participating,” says Melissa Rudinger, AOPA senior VP of government affairs. “Mixed equipage will diminish the value of NextGen for everyone, so it’s imperative that all types of system users get the help they need to invest in the technology.”
Overall, though, the budget drew praise. “We believe that the President’s fiscal 2012 budget proposal clearly identifies the need to modernize our nation’s air traffic control system,” says National Air Transportation Association President Jim Coyne. “The president’s proposal is the first step in an important process to ensure the necessary funding to support NextGen, airport infrastructure development and a number of other critical safety programs.”