Inside the Fence

The funding debate of a generation ensues. It would appear one has FAA and the airlines on one side; most of the rest of the industry on the other. Not that the 'other' is all in agreement; they just don't like the other position.

Yeah, that's funding.

In the middle — well, actually the conductor of this concerto — is the U.S. Congress. Jim Coyne, president of NATA, says the 'new' Congress isn't one that is too inclined to jump on the airlines' position.

Meanwhile, there is a mountain of compromise ahead. How does ATC (finally) get truly modernized? How is the system funded — fuel/ticket taxes; user fees; etc.? Do we modify/unleash PFCs? Do we get a general fund contribution that amounts to anything? How much goes to AIP? Oh, and what happens when the U.S. Congress can't make a decision by September 30? Airports, meanwhile, would just like to see a reliable funding formula put in place, one that adequately funds AIP.

Interestingly, Coyne, a former U.S. Congressman himself, seems relatively calm about the funding debate. This is his arena, and he says the Democrats — he's a Republican — will probably get the deal done by September 30, if for no other reason than they want to prove their mettle.

He emphasizes it's a long road. The first question to answer: Is the Aviation Trust Fund truly going to be underfunded under the current system? AOPA consistently has argued 'no.' Recently, former DOT Inspector General Ken Mead came out with the same conclusion. Coming from one who hears from a lot of the industry analysts, Ken Mead's point of view is about as good as it gets. As I.G., this man continuously came out with analyses that were thoughtful, direct, and generally on target.

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The one issue that has Coyne and others particularly concerned is general aviation security. They fear that Congress is going to direct TSA to bring down more stringent guidelines if for no other reason than Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WVA) wants them. Following a recent lunch with the Senator, Coyne came away alarmed.

Coyne relates, "He talks at great lengths of how he feels that a private airplane is going to be used to carry some WMD. I think the Intel community has created this bogeyman. He flat out said, 'We are going to come up with new security regulations that will affect general aviation.' It's the first time the chair of the Intel committee is chair of the aviation subcommittee."

Thanks for reading.