The Department of Commerce announced June 4 that it is moving forward with closing National Weather Service Center Weather Service Units at each of the 20 Air Route Traffic Control Centers in the continental United States, according to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which called the move dangerous to air traffic safety.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — For the first time in nearly two years, the FAA has a permanently-appointed administrator — J. Randolph “Randy” Babbitt.
His tenure is five years, giving the FAA some stability for planning, budgeting and organization.
Babbitt, who comes to office as the FAA faces a number of difficult issues, has been urged by some members of Congress and aviation groups to immediately tackle and resolve two major issues: First, settle the long-standing dispute between the FAA and air traffic controllers; and second, speed the development of the next generation of air traffic control (NextGen).
The Senate began work on reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration with a hearing by the aviation subcommittee that signaled a push to speed operation of the NextGen air traffic control system, another battle over user fees, and greater FAA financing from the general fund.
The aviation trust fund, which is used to help finance the FAA and provide help for airports, is in danger of going broke, according to a report from the Government Accounting Office (GAO) which could signal a stronger pitch for user fees.
At the end of fiscal Year 2001, the uncommitted balance in the fund was $7.3 billion. This had declined to $1.4 billion at the end of FY 2008. The Congressional Budget Office recently forecast the uncommitted balance to fall still farther, to $752 million.
The reduction in airline operations and overly optimistic forecasts by the FAA are cited as the primary causes for the trouble. Airlines have reduced their active fleets by 18 % from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the fourth quarter of 2008, through which 38 cities lost scheduled service altogether and many others saw a sharp drop in the number of flights. Los Angeles International Airport, for instance, lost non-stop service to 12 of its 92 destinations, while the smaller airport at Little Rock, Arkansas, lost six of its 22 flights. That meant less fuel tax revenue and lower passenger facility charges. Passenger facility charges were about $145 million less in 2008 than in 2007. Actual revenues into the trust fund have been lower than forecast since 2001 and FAA now says it expects revenues to continue their decline in 2009.
According to the FAA, the Obama administration is considering transferring responsibility for revenue forecasts from the FAA to the Treasury Department.
Over-all, the GAO report says airports generally are in good financial shape but must consider taking steps to reduce expenses, delay some major projects, and find ways to increase revenue. Smaller airports could be more vulnerable. The report expresses concern that, if revenues to the trust Fund continue to drop below forecast levels, there could be a risk of insufficient resources to cover all the obligations the FAA has the authority to incur.
Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) was quick to jump on release of the report to declare that Congress must work with the FAA to find alternative ways to match trust fund commitments with actual revenues. Mica, ranking minority member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, carried the Bush administration torch for user fees in the past session.
With the federal government’s budget already expected to raise deficits into the trillions of dollars, and a declining source of revenue going into the trust fund, aviation interests can expect major battles over fees, services and projects in the coming months.
Do states have a right to control operations of emergency medical helicopters or is this role exclusive to the Federal Aviation Administration? With states eager to place restrictions on airports and flight paths, a decision favoring them could end up causing numerous problems for general aviation.
The question was the center of an April 22 Congressional hearing into the safety of helicopter medical emergency flights (HEMS), brought on by a spike in fatal accidents last year.
Reps. John Mica (R-FL) and Tom Petri (R-WI) asked for the hearing after last year’s eight fatal and five non-fatal accidents. Mica and Petri are ranking members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Aviation Subcommittee, respectively. Two bills have been introduced to give states more authority over helicopter emergency medical services. The bills would give states authority to regulate HEMS much as they regulate doctors and other medical services.
Testifying for the FAA, John Allen, director of flight standards, said the agency is taking steps to improve safety. Air ambulances, he said, operate under the Airline Deregulation Act of 1979, granting states rights to control prices, routes and services, but not safety or other operational rules. He said many of the HEMS companies operate in more than one state. To have 50 different state regimes addressing economic regulation could complicate the industry.
If states are granted rights to impose individual regulations on one segment of the industry, other segments may seek similar protection from competition, Allen pointed out. Rep. Mica echoed that concern in his opening statement. If HEMS were treated differently in terms of state versus federal oversight, he said, other sectors of aviation might feel justified in demanding their own carve-out of federal regulations.
Currently, HEMS operations come under Part 121 and 135 of Federal Aviation Regulations.
Citing challenges facing general aviation, Craig Fuller, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, unveiled Monday a $1.5 million advertising and promotion campaign to gain public support to keep government from imposing devastating user fees, airport limitations, and other restrictions on air transportation that serves America.
The program includes radio, television, on-line and print ads featuring how people and businesses use personal aircraft and the services this use gives to the nation. Actor and long-time pilot Harrison Ford, an AOPA member, is volunteering to help tell the story of general aviation. Advertisements include personal reports of how general aviation contributes more than $150 billion into the U.S. economy each year and what this means for local communities, businesses, medical and law enforcement, and other activities.
“General aviation is facing acute challenges from many directions,” Fuller said at a press conference, “which could cause much, if not all, of that economic activity to dry up.”
Challenges include President Obama’s budget plan to impose hefty user fees on flights and concerns over possible airport and airspace restricts.
Through the telling of how “General Aviation Serves America” AOPA hopes to gain a better public understanding of personal and business flight and get more grass roots help for the association’s work with Congress, the FAA, Homeland Security, and other federal and state officials.
The program is just the beginning, Fuller said, of a continuing effort which probably will cover several years before the public fully understands how general aviation serves and must be permitted to continue its valuable work for the nation.
For more information: AOPA.org
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Reauthorization of the FAA is nearly two years behind schedule. The House is trying again to pass a bill, hoping that it won’t be stalled – again – in the Senate. The present temporary reauthorization expires March 31.
“We need to get a bill passed as quickly as possible,” said Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), chair of the Aviation Subcommittee.
WASHINGTON. D.C. – Congress has a plateful of aviation issues to work on and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has started to take bites into them.
Committee Chairman Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) called a meeting of the full committee in the early days of the 111th Congress to set out the agenda. Then, just two days after the inauguration, the committee heard testimony from governors, manufacturers and others about how best to allot money in the proposed stimulus package for transportation needs. Expectations are that funds allotted for airport development would be $3 billion. Many states have airport development programs ready to go if funds become available, according to the National Association of State Aviation Officials.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The President’s fiscal year 2009 budget request for the FAA has been met with harsh criticism from aviation groups, as well as doubts and questions from the House aviation subcommittee.