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May 10, 2007, 1:23 PM
I encourage anyone/everyone who has an interest (be it passive or active, personal or professional) in the future of commercial aviation in the United States to pay close attention to what's currently taking place in Washington.
Major systemic changes, including funding sources for and subsequently (for airports and the communities they serve) from the FAA are at the core of these heated debates and deliberations; the GAO's report/recommendations can be found at: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d03653t.pdf
Thanks in advance for taking the time to carefully peruse and seriously consider the potential impact on United States airports - from airside improvement/development, to landside construction/renovation to, at the end of the day, air service choices at the commercial service and/or general aviation airport(s) in your community - that are up for grabs.
THIS IS A VITALLY IMPORTANT INFRASTRUCTURAL ISSUE THAT WILL EFFECT THE FUTURE OF AVIATION IN AMERICA - WEIGH IN WITH YOUR LEGISLATORS TODAY...OR BE PREPARED TO QUIETLY ACCEPT WHATEVER FINAL FORM THIS BILL TAKES; THE TIME FOR ACTION AND ADVOCACY IS NOW, NOT AFTER THE FACT!
May 18, 2007, 1:03 PM
Air traffic upgrades essential, but funds are tight
The Denver (CO) Rocky Mountain News (Friday - May 18,2007)
The United States' air-traffic control system needs an overhaul, and soon. Upgrading the ATC network, which continues to rely on radar rather than GPS or other more-precise technologies, will require at least $5 billion more over the next decade than the current regime of passenger charges, fuel taxes and other fees can raise.
The funding shortfall will become particularly acute in the next few years, as the volume of "flight operations" (takeoffs and landings) at U.S. airports is expected to surge from 45,000 today to 61,000 by 2016. With several major hub airports already operating near capacity, new technologies that can use airspace safely and more efficiently are a must.
Congress will almost certainly change the financing system this year, since the current funding mechanisms expire Sept. 30. But how Washington collects the money matters, and user fees should be included. Commercial airlines, cargo transporters and private, general aviation flyers should pay for the upgrades, with fees linked to the amount of stress users place on ATC facilities.
One way to do that is with congestion pricing; it should cost more to fly in and out during peak hours, so that traffic can be more evenly spaced throughout the day.
The Federal Aviation Administration drafted model legislation based on this principle (as well as the idea that aircraft size and weight be related to the size of fees). But in the Senate, lawmakers have their own ideas, driven more by aviation interests than consumers, and the results have been disappointing so far.
S. 1300, which passed a committee vote on Wednesday, would be at best a slight improvement over the status quo. It would impose a flat user fee of $25 for every flight other than those involving small, piston-engine airplanes. Congestion pricing is not in the bill; nor are charges based on a plane's weight.
Even getting a flat user fee included in the Senate bill was tough. An amendment to strip it from the bill failed on a vote of 11-12. The general aviation lobby opposes any user fees, because even a modest nod in that direction would shift more costs in its direction.
But general aviation should pay more; the FAA says it provides only 3 percent of the financing for the air-traffic control system, yet it accounts for roughly 17 percent of its use.
The bill also includes one unacceptable provision: It would give the air-traffic controllers' union the right to demand arbitration if it can't work out a labor agreement with the FAA.
This could eventually put passengers at risk. The union could use its leverage in labor talks to make it tougher for the FAA to introduce new technologies, especially if they require workers to handle tasks that aren't covered in their contracts.
Even if S. 1300 passes the Senate, the House is expected to craft its own FAA bill over the next couple of weeks.
It's crucial for the House to get its version right. It should incorporate a more balanced user fee system, and ensure that the controllers' union can't hold modernization of the air-traffic control system hostage.
May 18, 2007, 3:59 PM
I don't think that congestion pricing will really do much to curb demand. We're already seeing that airplanes are very close to being at full capacity and I don't see many of the airlines increasing the number of planes that they own substantially, due to their financial wows. Also, keep in mind that with a huge growth in the business traveler segment, we're talking about a group that is fairly price in-elastic. When you can expense your flight, you don't really care if they impose a $100 tax on you for flying at peak times.
I definitely think that by automating most of the ATC system, that can help the system as it will require less spacing between aircraft and the ability to take off and land more frequently in inclement weather. That is part of it.
On the flip side, we need to see more investment of airlines into more and more planes. I'd like to see more purchasing of larger aircraft for many domestic routes. This would allow for a higher load between routes. I know that many airlines filled these routes with smaller planes because the demand had dropped, but now times are changing. I'd even suggest government investment in the privately held airlines, if they can't afford this capital investment themselves. If we can do it for Amtrak, why not for American, United, Delta, etc?
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