Fight Brewing over FAA's Funding

The bill, which is yet to be introduced, would shift some of the burden for funding the FAA from commercial airline passengers to private plane and jet operators.


"One thing we don't know is what the fees would be to fly into these airports," said Ira Eichenfield, owner of Corporate Flight International, a Las Vegas firm that stores and rents private jets. "The fees could be all over the place."

Small companies in the general aviation or private jet business would be the most likely to be hurt by the changes, Eichenfield said.

"It always dies from the bottom up," he said of the impact of higher costs on an industry.

The FAA says change is necessary because ticket price volatility makes the passenger tax unreliable and the agency needs to save money to replace the nation's dated ground radar control system with a satellite-based operation that would reduce flight delays.

The Next Generation Air Transportation System upgrade would cost between $15 billion and $22 billion and wouldn't be complete until at least 2025.

"We rely very heavily on ticket taxes," FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said. "There are several problems with that."

And with the price of airline tickets falling by about 50 percent since 1978, when adjusted for inflation, the percentage tax isn't enough to pay for needed air traffic control upgrades, Gregor said.

"We have to fund the current system and we have to set money aside to build the Next Generation system," he said.

The FAA wants the new funding structure approved before the existing structure expires Sept. 30.

The concept has already been rejected by some members of Congress and others have suggested they are open to the idea.

Whether the bitter fight will actually lead to safer and more efficient use of the nation's air space remains to be seen, no matter who pays the bills.

Vassiliadis said if the FAA could deliver on the new air traffic control system it would benefit McCarran.

"One of the most constraining parts of our airport is the airspace," she said.

But Michael Boyd, an airline consultant at the Boyd Group in Evergreen, Colo., said the FAA has promised and failed to deliver an upgrade to America's woefully dated air traffic control system for decades.

He said the building battle over FAA funding, no matter who wins, won't break the bureaucratic logjam he says is responsible for delaying the introduction of a satellite-based air control system.

"They have had the funding. They just can't manage money," said Boyd. "We have got to fix the FAA, not the funding of the FAA."

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