DOT Secretary Rodney Slater has eloquently stated that aviation will be to the 21st Century what highways were to the 20th and railroads were to the 19th. Yet, Americans suffered through more than half a million hours of flight delays last year. Our country's 30 largest airports are already congested. Chairman Shuster recently cited a report estimating that we must increase airport capacity by 60 percent by 2015 just to maintain our current unacceptable levels of delays. Every credible authority predicts gridlock if we do not change our ways. The solution is locked in the Aviation Trust Fund.
The AIR-21 bill continues the historic "general fund" contribution to aviation of $2-3 billion annually. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has put some very positive and important features into the Senate FAA/AIP reauthorization bill (S.82). But, in the March issue on this page, Senator McCain wrote, "If you take aviation off budget, you lose this general fund contribution." I respectfully disagree.
Many groups and individuals across the nation have advocated special budget treatment for the Aviation Trust Fund. These include an alliance of NASAO; the National Governors' Association; the Southern Governors Association; the National Conference of State Legislatures; and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
In campaigning for H.R. 111, Thomas Donahue, President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, wrote, "It is not only an issue of tax fairness but is the key to helping maintain our competitive edge in the global marketplace." The Coalition for TRUST (Transportation Revenues Used Solely for Transportation) and the Alliance for Truth in Transportation Budgeting, both made up of broad groups of business, industry, labor, and state and local governments, have been indispensable leaders in the charge towards special budget treatment for the Aviation Trust Fund. These large, highly respected groups have all called for unlocking the Trust Fund.
How radical can this idea be?
Holding back the
An important facet of AIR-21 is that it is a five-year funding bill. Most airports and states already have five-year Capitol Improvement Plans; all states have long-range system plans. Aside from inadequate funding, short-term reauthorization has had a disastrous effect on their carefully planned infrastructure improvements. With the deadlock on Capitol Hill last year resulting in a six-month AIP extension, followed by a two-month extension this year, we may as well have thrown the plans out the window. The best guess is that this year's start and stop funding has forced 284 airports in 31 states to delay important projects valued at $500 million.
Airport infrastructure improvements have been delayed while the proponents and opponents of increasing slots and PFCs have used the reauthorization bill as their battleground and the airports as their hostage. Slots and PFCs are sideshow issues which have been blown out of proportion and, as a result, limit debate on the critical core issues of AIP funding. Slots and PFCs must be dealt with, but a five-year AIP program funded at adequate levels by an unlocked trust fund is of critical importance.
If AIR-21 does not pass, and an acceptable compromise is not reached with the Senate, we will have to return to the daily struggle of keeping our national aviation system functioning and patched together until some new disaster catches the attention of the general public and reignites the funding debate.
'Year of Aviation' With raised expectations, industry looks for long-term funding reform. Here are the basics of the debate BY John F. Infanger, Editorial Director March 1999...
AIP Funding States prepare their airports for AIR-21 funding monies By By Jordanna Smida, Associate Editor October 2000 LONG BEACH, CA — While the state aviation officials...
In 2012, U.S. carriers collected nearly $3.5 billion in baggage fees and $2.55 billion from reservation change fees according to DOT.