Inside the Fence

At the AAAE convention in San Diego, questions, ATC, money, and an initiative indicating change ...

Kate Lang, the deputy associate administrator for airports for FAA, came to her opening session with questions. She has many; she suggests industry needs to be asking many more. In light of proposed Bush Administration cuts that could see the Airport Improvement Program lose more than $700 million from authorized levels for FY07, it would seem a few answers might be in order.

To paraphrase Lang, industry needs to explore current programs and ask which ones may not really be necessary anymore, or which could be restructured to save dollars. In particular, she asks, are some of the programs put in place after 9/11 still justified? The assistance to primary airports that saw passenger levels drop, but which may be back at or exceeding those levels? Noise set-asides? Or, the Military Airport Program?

Funding. Here comes the future authorization battle. GA groups fight for little or no change; airlines want change. Airport groups sit on the sidelines — they want stability, a reliable funding source, and getting Congress out of the debate every few years.

From this chair it seems what ATA wants most of all is the real modernization of the U.S. air traffic control system. Whatever business aviation pays to access the system pales in comparison to the savings herein. It is a laudable goal. It would seem that should be the focus of the argument.

News flash: AAAE is exploring what guidance it may provide to airports for becoming service providers for airlines. Enough airports have an interest that the association is exploring the idea. Elaine Roberts, the new chair of AAAE, says it has the potential of becoming a successor to the successful Contract Tower Association, a sister organization.

Thinking of the service side, one turns to Jim Coyne, president of NATA, who has recognized this as a potential trend. Maybe it’s time for NATA’s sister group, the Airline Services Council, to meet with AAAE on how private companies can be a part of that guidance.

There’s a new dynamic occurring here. Commercial airports first and foremost seek to foster airline service to their communities — it’s the issue. But the potential revenue is a factor.It’s up to the private sector to sell why it can provide the service at an agreeable cost and benefit. If nothing else, NATA brings a proven safety program on which it has expended much.

The press is calling, thus the rest of our AAAE coverage will follow in our June issue. Thanks for reading.