Federal Budget To Cut Funds To Small Airports, EAS Carriers

Small airports and general aviation interests are the big losers in President Bush's proposed 2007 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) budget. There are very few winners in the battle for the dollars.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) has proposed funding the FAA at $13.7 billion in the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1, which is down from the $14.3 billion approved for this year. In fiscal year 2005, the FAA spent $13.8 billion.

The winners include the FAA's administrative operations and air traffic control office, which will receive $8.4 billion, enough to fund the hiring of 194 new inspectors and 1,136 new air traffic controllers. The department would spend nearly $200 million in new dollars to modernize it operations, including new air traffic control equipment. The proposed budget includes $1.6 billion for equipment purchases.

Gone in the proposed budget is the Small Community Air Service Development grant program. Scaled back is the Essential Air Service (EAS) program. Fewer dollars are earmarked for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP).

The proposed budget for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) calls for a hike in the security fee that is tacked onto each airline ticket. The agency wants to double the tax from $2.50 to $5 for all flights. The larger tax would generate $3.3 billionto partially fund the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

As the House Budget Committee last week began its first review of the proposed DOT budget, U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) noted that the proposal falls 23 percent - $1.6 billion - short of meeting the goals Congress set in the last FAA reauthorization measure. "This reduction is extremely shortsighted and will only serve to accelerate the impending crisis of congestion and delays in our nation's aviation system," said Young, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee. "Unless we make the necessary investments in our airport and air traffic control infrastructure, delays will increase significantly as air travel continues to increase."

Small Community Air Service

If Congress goes along with the DOT spending plan, this year will be the last year for the Small Community Air Service Development grant program. In its first four years, Congress provided about $20 million each year to fund 40 projects per year. This year, Congress cut the appropriation to $10 million with applications now due in April. The program was created to provide local communities with funds to attract new commercial air service. Unlike many federal programs, individual communities are free to craft their own programs.

In the proposed budget, there is no funding for the program.

"Many of these cuts, including the complete elimination of the Small Community Air Service Program, will stifle air service to rural America, where air transportation is the most efficient means of travel," said James Coyne, president of the National Air Transportation Association (NATA).

Essential Air Service

Just as it has done in the past, DOT wants to cut the appropriation for the EAS program to the bare $50 million mandated by law. Congress this year appropriated $110 million for EAS - the highest amount in recent years.

According to Maurice Parker, the executive director of Regional Aviation Partners (RAP), the administration is again trying to cut back on the number of EAS communities by changing the ground rules. In the proposed eligibility rules - the same ones DOT tried to get adopted last year - those communities within 50 miles of a non-hub airport with jet service will have to foot 50 percent of the EAS subsidy paid to the regional airline flying its routes. Those communities within 100 miles of a large hub are also required to provide a 50 percent match. Those communities between 100 and 210 miles of a large airport would pay a 20 percent match. For those communities more than 210 miles from a large airport, they would have to provide 10 percent of the subsidy.

Furthermore, DOT wants to redefine "miles" as meaning the shortest driving distances. When confronted with this definition in 2004, RAP convinced Congress to define "miles" as being the most commonly driven route as certified by the governor.

Parker said the proposed new guidelines would create a new priority in funding with the most remote communities getting funded first. Furthermore, if a new community is certified, then the division of whole pool would be recalculated and reallocated.

In a call-to-arms to the RAP membership, Parker noted that "because this is an election year, it is likely that Congress will seek to restore funding for certain high profile domestic programs. Those who speak up and are heard will likely win the battle for additional funds."

AIP

The FAA proposes spending $800 million less in Airport Improvement Program funds next year. The proposed budget is $2.7 billion, compared to the $3.5 billion appropriated for this year, or the $3.4 billion spent in 2005.

Not only would fewer dollars be flowing from the Aviation Trust Fund into the program, but the existing allocation rules also would cut small airports out of the 2007 grant program. All "entitlements" for general aviation airports would be eliminated, said Phil Boyer, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). This means that almost all of the money would go to big airports, "Congress must not allow this to happen," Boyer said.

The lack of new grant money would delay improvements and critical maintenance projects at general aviation airports, said Doug Macnair, vice president of government relations at Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). "Local airport infrastructures are left wanting in this budget proposal. Again, the proposed FAA budget takes money specifically designated for airport improvements and other capital expenditures and uses it to fund general operations" of the FAA.

For the first time, the FAA will tap some $17.9 million of the trust fund dollars to fund unspecified airport technology research. In addition, it proposes spending $10 million on airport cooperative research.

>>DOT's detailed budget tables are at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2007/appendix.html. Contacts: U.S. Rep. Don Young, (202) 225-7749; James Coyne, NATA, (703) 845-9000; Maurice Parker, RAP, (602) 685-4112; Phil Boyer, APOA, (301) 695-2000; Doug Macnair, EAA, (920) 426-4800.

[Copyright 2006 Access Intelligence, LLC. All rights reserved.]

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