SEATTLE - AAAE's No. 2 man Spencer Dickerson continues to insist that "security, security, security" remains perched as the top concern for U.S. airports today - from funding to installation to standards. If preliminary reports of an errant pilot violating D.C. airspace procedures indeed show that it was just a case of ignorance, Dickerson may be right. As though on script, the Cessna 150 was diverted to Frederick, MD - a plot, perhaps, by the Secret Service as a way of saying, ‘In your face, Phil Boyer and AOPA.' (AOPA is headquartered at the Frederick airport.) The script with how security and a host of other needs will be funded is not being written with any sort of urgency by Congress. Meanwhile, the sirens in the D.C. winds suggest it is time to rethink the entire aviation funding/taxation system.
Apparently, the security system in place broke down if a pilot, based not far from Washington, was ignorant of restrictions over the Capital airspace. The good news is the military's new book of procedures worked at detaining the aircraft. The Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association is surely alarmed that its educational efforts regarding security have not reached all pilots. The bad PR is another matter.
For airports, the educational effort is with the U.S. Congress, but the students aren't doing their homework. Comments Dickerson, vice president for the American Association of Airport Executives, "We've been telling [Congress] for some time now that there are significant savings to the TSA's personnel costs by going 100 percent in-line [baggage screening]."
The most immediate assignment is funding what Congress mandated for security in November, 2001 - most notably, as Dickerson indicates, getting Congress to finance the in-line baggage screening systems. However, the mood of 9/12 is not the mood of mid-2005.
Washington is not willing to throw money at security or aviation in general, it seems - although $3 billion for the Airport Improvement Program is a far cry from the days of $1.2 billion not long ago. Yet, it is still $500 million short of what the Vision 100 authorization legislation allows.
But the issues are larger. The discussion in Washington is quickly turning to one of reconsideration - of everything related to how the aviation system is funded, to that which it funds. That means rethinking ticket taxes, fuel taxes, even the Trust Fund itself. At the top of the heap sits the Federal Aviation Administration, which is in effect being largely funded via the Aviation Trust Fund, a purpose for which it was not originally intended. The agency recently invited industry and non-industry leaders to make recommendations on how to fund FAA and the system in the future.
Steve Van Beek, vice president with Airports Council International-North America, estimates that some 90 percent of U.S. airports have not found the financial resources to fund the explosives detection systems called for by Congress. "I've talked with large airports that don't want to do it because they're not willing to see the savings accrue to TSA; they are willing if they see the potential for being repaid [by the federal government]. Airports are willing to do it up front, but they need a pledge of some sort.
"This has been perhaps our biggest disappointment, because we can do something that we know saves money. Yet, there's little leadership on the Hill for funding it."
Meanwhile, revenues to airports and the industry in general, including the Trust Fund, are down because of the state of the airline industry. That fact alone is serving as a catalyst for a major rethinking of how the aviation system and FAA are funded. It's a significant discussion that is just beginning, as representatives in Washington, D.C. consider the next aviation reauthorization legislation, scheduled for FY2007.
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