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Tue, Feb 05, 2008

Letter Groups React To White House Budget Proposal

'What Part Of NO Don't They Understand?'

On Monday, the Bush Administration released its proposed budget for fiscal year 2009... and it represents more of the same for general aviation, as the White House continues to push for deep cuts in programs vital to smaller airports, while continuing to show an apparent prejudice towards airlines.

In announcing the Department of Transportation's $68 billion cut of the budget plan, DOT Secretary Mary Peters touted the administration's $10.1 billion pledge for transit programs... including $688 million for the transition to the agency's much-touted -- but so far, under-realized -- NextGen air traffic control system.

"If last-year’s record traffic jams and flight delays taught us anything, it is that traditional approaches are not capable of producing the results we need to keep America’s economy growing," Peters said.     

Of course, that extra money has to come from somewhere... especially as the lame-duck administration looks to cut spending for the year. To the consternation of almost everyone -- except the airlines -- the plan also calls for the FAA to be funded through a mix of new taxes and user fees imposed on general aviation.

"What part of 'NO!' doesn’t the White House understand?" said Phil Boyer, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), after reviewing the White House plan. "They just changed the dates and submitted essentially the same proposal as last year -- a proposal soundly rejected by the general aviation community, the House, and the Senate...

"[D]id they really think that this year we would roll over for a 70-cents-per-gallon tax on avgas, and universal user fees to access portions of the National Airspace System?" Boyer asked. "Congress rejected that tax increase and broad user fees last year, and Congress has shot down user fee proposals for the last three decades. AOPA will continue to fight any attempt to impose user fees on any segment of aviation."

Pete Bunce, president and CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), also termed the budget proposal more of the same. "Despite Congress saying "no" to the Administration's proposal to scrap the current funding mechanism for a less efficient one that imposes user fees, they have once again launched an effort to complete a FAA reauthorization bill by proposing the exact same failed plan," said Bunce (shown below.) "GAMA continues to categorically oppose user fees of all types on any segment of the aviation community. We will continue our efforts with Congress to complete action this year on a FAA reauthorization bill, but quite frankly, the Administration pushing a financing scheme the Congress has already rejected makes our job tougher."

It gets worse. Under the president's budget plan, the FAA's Airport Improvement Program would be cut by $765 million over 2008 -- and about $1 billion less than what Congress has already approved. The AIP funds improvements for large and small airports alike... but typically makes up a far larger percentage of the annual budgets of smaller GA fields.

"Once again, the Bush administration wants huge new taxes and user fees imposed on general aviation, and it wants to slash and burn the Airport Improvement Program (AIP)," said Boyer. "To think that GA or Congress is going to treat this proposal any differently than the last one is, frankly, crazy, and a waste of government resources in ideological posturing... We're facing a capacity crisis at the major airline airports, and even the FAA concedes that the most effective method of decreasing congestion is building new runways. Yet they cut money for construction."

Bunce added, "It is pretty hard to believe the Administration is serious about increasing capacity when they again cut Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding by nearly 22 percent."

The proposed cut to AIP funding angered Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA)... which also questioned the logic of steps to increase traffic capacity, while cutting funding for much-needed improvements to the nation's airport infrastructure.

"Without increased funding, airports cannot fulfill their obligation to the flying public: to operate safe, secure and efficient facilities," said ACI-NA President Greg Principato. "With delays and congestion at an all-time high, and a record one billion passengers expected in the skies by 2015, airports need to act now to improve capacity and their ability to handle ever-increasing numbers of air travelers. The Administration’s budget proposal will not allow for the kind of expansion that is vital to our aviation system."

Principato also noted the Administration’s FY09 budget also would eliminate funding for the Small Community Air Service Program, as well as significantly reduce the Essential Air Service Program (EAS). "These programs are critical for small communities throughout this country," he said.

That sentiment was also echoed by Boyer. "We’re facing a capacity crisis at the major airline airports, and even the FAA concedes that the most effective method of decreasing congestion is building new runways. Yet they cut money for construction," Boyer said.

"The facts bear repeating. The current funding system of aviation excise taxes works," Boyer concluded. "These proven taxes will generate all the necessary funds for air traffic control modernization and for new runways. Let’s bring some sanity back to the budget process and go with what we know works, and what the general aviation public and Congress will support."

Sanity? In federal government?

FMI: www.whitehouse.gov, www.dot.gov, www.aopa.org, www.gama.aero, www.aci-na.org

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