Air Line Pilot, March 2001President's Forum: Protecting Aviation Funding
The Office of Management and Budget, the federal agency that drafts the President’s federal budget, recently proposed axing $568 million from FAA funding for the next fiscal year. This brought such a cry of protest from all sides of the aviation industry that OMB wisely decided to look elsewhere for potential savings—for the moment. The agency had proposed to shave $368 million from capital development programs that would improve airports and air traffic control and some $200 million from the FAA’s operating funds. To cut funds in the manner OMB proposed would damn airline passengers to more delays and cancellations and would adversely affect aviation safety for many years to come.
OMB’s proposal was a clarion call for aviation support groups and members of Congress who had worked hard to make aviation infrastructure improvements a high priority during the last congressional session. The measure Congress approved to fund the improvements, AIR 21, also established the principle that revenues collected from aviation users and placed into the Airport and Airways Trust Fund should be fully spent for aviation purposes and not diverted to other uses—a position ALPA has espoused for many years.
More than a year ago, we identified NAS modernization as one of our vital strategic objectives. We recognized that immediate improvements in ATC are required before any other action to improve aviation in the United States can succeed.
While the mandates and funding promises in AIR 21 do not provide a "silver bullet" that will resolve all of our problems in one year, at least we had, in the original package, a long-term plan that had some chance for success. The bill provided only a minimum of what is required to resolve the problem. Similar to "just-in-time" production scheduling, these projects have to come together in a particular order and timing sequence. If any funding gaps occur or if individual projects fall behind, the consequences will tumble through the industry like a room full of dominoes. So we were discouraged to find that even before the fiscal year began, when the amount budgeted was barely enough to get the job done anyway, and with almost no margin for error, OMB proposed significant cuts that fall far short of the mandates that Congress authorized.
To raise the alarm, ALPA representatives collaborated with other industry groups to urge legislators from both parties to strongly object to the proposed cuts, especially in the House, where Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) and the Committee’s ranking minority member Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) sent a strong letter to President Bush, urging him to reverse course. ALPA also weighed in with Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and FAA Administrator Jane Garvey to call for restoration of the funds. OMB restored its cuts.
But this struggle is not over. The FY 2002 final budget will not be submitted until early March, and OMB may still return this funding to the chopping block. We also have future years to worry about. AIR 21 is a long-term plan that requires a full commitment from Congress, the White House, and all of us in the aviation industry. Nothing less is acceptable.
s/Duane E. Woerth