Industry Comment

March 8, 1999

Industry Comment

By Sen. John McCain, Chairman, Senate Commerce Committee

March 1999

On his 2-year authorization bill, and the potential for longer term legislation ...

This year's FAA reauthorization bill picks up where we left off last year, when the Senate approved a two-year reauthorization bill by a vote of 92-1. Two years was the term that the Senate supported. If members support a longer term, I could support that as well. '

A six-month authorization is unnecessary. Both the House and the Senate have considered multi-year reauthorization proposals for at least the past two years. It is time to move forward on the important safety, security, and competition improvements that are included in S. 82.

On taking the Aviation Trust Fund off budget ...

I have traditionally opposed taking trust funds off budget. I understand that there are more than one hundred trust funds in the federal budget. If you take them out of the unified budget, you have to be prepared to make drastic spending cuts elsewhere in the budget. It's a zero sum game.

I also question what good it would do to treat the aviation trust fund like the highway trust fund. All highway improvements are paid for out of the highway trust fund. Yet, aviation spending is supported by an approximate $2 billion annual contribution from the general fund. If you take aviation off budget, you lose this general fund contribution. Spending on aviation could actually decrease.

Taking the aviation trust fund off budget would change the role of appropriators, who play a significant role in scrutinizing FAA spending on salaries, capital acquisition, and the like. They make the case that the FAA is not fiscally responsible enough to deserve unfettered spending ability. Federal spending on highways goes almost exclusively toward laying pavement and related capital construction. Aviation spending goes for a great deal more than just infrastructure improvements. It supports a huge federal bureaucracy that doesn't exist in highways.

I have supported instead an FAA-sponsored user fee system. Under that system, most users would simply pay for the services that they get from the federal government. These payments would in turn support the federal aviation system. A key component of the proposal, however, is fiscal accountability on the part of FAA. Toward that end, we enacted legislation in 1996 that directs the FAA to develop a cost accounting system. FAA has to be able to demonstrate that it is spending the right amount on the right things before Congress simply throws more money at the agency.

On his proposal for a Small Community Aviation Development Program ...

The program would allow communities or consortia of communities to form assessments of their air service requirements, and submit their assessments and air service proposals to the Department of Transportation. The DOT would then select communities in the program, and ask air carriers to respond to their air service proposals.

DOT would work with these small communities and air carriers to facilitate the initiation of air service. DOT would be able to provide financial assistance to communities of up to $500,000 per year per community, as long as the community provides a 25 percent funding match. The emphasis would be on public-private partnerships to promote air service at small communities that have not benefitted from deregulation.

Regarding the National Air Transportation Association's Aviation Access Initiative, the FAA reauthorization bill would require the General Accounting Office to study how the national airport system meets rural air transportation needs. Specifically, the study will look at the ability of the airport system to place people within a one-hour drive of an airport with a runway of at least 5,500 feet in length.