FAA Legislation: Impacts to Aviation Businesses

June 26, 2015

Greetings from Washington!  NATA is heavily engaged in advocating for all of our members on serious and far-reaching policy issues rapidly unfolding.  It’s important for all NATA members to understand the critical importance of this advocacy because, as the Voice of Aviation Business, we are in a unique position to speak with clarity on issues directly impacting your businesses in both the short and long terms.

Without a doubt, the highest priority issue we are currently facing is the reauthorization of the FAA. The last FAA reauthorization bill was signed into law on Valentine’s Day in 2012 and is set to expire at the end of this federal fiscal year – September 30. This means that the FAA must once again be reauthorized by Congress to continue operations. For both industry and government, it is vitally important that such long-term legislation be enacted.

Bills such as these are important to all NATA members. The FAA reauthorization bill establishes policy direction for programs like NextGen and contains numerous other provisions intended to make it easier for stakeholders, like you, to interact with the FAA.  In fact, you will see (on the front page of our website) a document, “Major Policy Issues,” developed with the help of our NATA committees. Your input guides our work on this and other important pieces of legislation.

Just like your business, reducing uncertainty for the government enables a longer-term approach to capital investment and system improvements. Recall, the 2012 FAA Reauthorization was enacted after 23 short-term extensions. This is no way to run an agency charged with providing air traffic services and guaranteeing the safety of the travelling public. Add to this the effects of the 2012 government shutdown and the impact of the following spring’s sequester and you can see why ‘business as usual’ in Washington is fundamentally and negatively impacting what is unquestionably the world’s finest airspace system – bar none.

Of course, the impact of sequestration and the other ongoing fiscal fights between the executive and legislative branches goes beyond just aviation. It also encompasses spending for our nation’s defense, support for local law enforcement, Amtrak and poverty programs. Sadly, some deep-pocketed Washington insiders, many with little or no real world operational experience, have elected to use this situation to brazenly advocate for completely restructuring the FAA, proposing to create a separate, user-fee-funded, air traffic control system. Such a “solution” gives us great pause and concern.  As I recently told a Senate committee, general aviation would find itself in constant peril with the travelling public paying ever-increasing fees if an ATC corporation were to be established that is entirely funded via user fees and controlled in perpetuity by a board of industry insiders.

Personally, I feel many in the aviation community are suffering from a bad case of “group think” that pillories both the institution of the FAA and its thousands of highly skilled and dedicated employees.  Others continue to draw false comparisons with countries that have modernized from, in some cases, systems with no or very rudimentary forms of aircraft surveillance (i.e. – no radars – and the attendant poor safety records).

We also cannot underestimate the potential impact of separating air traffic from the agency’s safety functions.  FAA Administrator Huerta recently observed that breaking down stovepipes means close interaction between the operations and safety functions of FAA.  Turning the FAA’s safety organization into a solely regulatory body, including overseeing operational standards, would likely create potential unintended consequences that will undermine many of the efficiencies that would purportedly come from a new air traffic control structure.

Importantly, no one in the aviation community suggests accepting the status quo at FAA.  Like any large organization with an established bureaucracy, change at the FAA can be extremely difficult.  As I stated recently in the Wall Street Journal, “No one in the aviation community suggests accepting the status quo. The injection of private-sector practices has and will continue to greatly improve the FAA’s operating structure and performance.”

However, it appears almost deliberately unnoticed by some that the FAA is bringing online highly-advanced and improving technologies like the recently completed En Route Automation Modernization system and the build out of hundreds of new Automated Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) ground stations throughout the country.  Good changes to our air traffic system are underway and we need to keep the pressure on for more and faster change.

Fortunately, the cavalry is arriving.  Let me express my thanks to those of you participating in the NATA Aviation Business Conference.  While the thrust of the conference is on industry education and networking, the conference begins with an important day of advocacy on Capitol Hill.  Anyone in Washington will tell you, an association’s members are any industry’s best advocates before Congress.

Help us ensure we prevent this academic, sterile, and narrow policy effort from gaining any more traction.  Whether you are joining us in Washington or not, speak loudly, consistently and resolutely to our elected representatives. The power rests entirely within the existing system to fix this problem – we just need our federal government to operate in the manner in which the Constitution intended!

Republished from Q2 Aviation Business Journal