WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Air Traffic Control Association (ATCA) held its annual conference and exposition here earlier this month and, as with most aviation meetings now, one of the hottest sessions concerned funding for the FAA.
A panel discussion brought out the usual airline pitch of fairness. This hackneyed point was touted by Sharon Pinkerton, a former FAA employee now working for the airline trade association, Air Transport Association. Phil Boyer, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), shot that argument down. After Pinkerton commented that “”grandma in seat 28B should have to pay only her fair share,”" Boyer asked if it is fair that grandma can send a letter from the lower states to Alaska for 39 cents, the same amount another person pays to send a letter just down the block.
He also countered that the air traffic system is built for airline demands and general aviation is forced to use much of what it does not need.
General aviation advocates and organizations are beginning to make a dent in the airlines’ “”fairness”" story with logic and common sense. Unfortunately, logic and common sense have never been proud traits of government. But that’s not limited to government. Experts tell us that for every act a person does based on logic and reason, 20 are done based on emotion. Humans are an emotional group and Americans, particularly, pride themselves on trying to be fair.
The FAA has emotion on its side. Administrator Marion Blakey used it well in her speech to ATCA. She commented on the fact that the population of the U.S. reached 300 million just a couple of weeks before her talk. Only China and India have larger populations. The U.S. is staring at the prospect of moving the equivalent of China or India through U.S. airspace in 10 years, she said. But, she added, because of the plans the FAA is making “”we will be ready.”"
The FAA and a contract company, MITRE, have been researching what systems will be needed to handle the anticipated traffic in 2016. Necessary equipment is already in the pipeline, she declared.
Referring to financing for the coming changes, Blakey said she doesn’t know what will be in the president’s budget for FY 2008, but transformational changes will continue to be top priorities to “”move away from yesterday’s air traffic control to tomorrow’s air traffic management.”"
As promising as this sounds, she said, there is a cloud—financing. Today’s method is “”unpredictable.”" Rising and falling ticket prices make it difficult to get a handle on tax revenues, she said, again raising the point of a claimed need to change from the present Trust Fund system.
All of this discussion about traffic increases, financing, tragic economic results if no action is taken, and other Chicken Little “”the sky is falling”" warnings is like the days before an interstate highway system was developed. President Dwight Eisenhower wanted to improve the road system for expected added traffic. The Hearst newspapers took a major part in the effort. Mr. Hearst appointed Bill Lampe, then editor of The Detroit Times, to push the highway program. Lampe’s plan was divided into three six-month segments. He explained it this way: “”the first six months we scared the hell out of everybody; the second six months were devoted to a positive approach that the problem could be solved; and the last six months were used to get the legislation passed.”"
The airlines and the FAA — whose top traffic management persons are ex-airline personnel — seem to be following the same formula.
Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.