FAA Sequestration

Published 28 Feb, 2013

Dear Chairmen Shuster and Rockefeller and Ranking Members Rahall and Thune:

The members of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Management Advisory Council' (MAC) urge that the Congress and President immediately pass and sign into law legislation eliminating or delaying the sequestration process, which otherwise beginning on March 1, 2013, will inflict serious damage to the U.S. aviation system. MAC members also urge that policymakers begin a process of reforming the policy, funding, and governance structure of the FAA to avoid these increasingly common threats to the U.S. aviation system which is one of our nation's leading engines for economic growth.

The FAA estimates that it will require at least one day of furlough per pay period for the vast majority of its 47,000 employees. It is these employees who staff air traffic control towers, maintain equipment, and inspect and certify aircraft. These furloughs, spread across the FAA, will result in service reductions and closure of many air traffic control towers, causing severe disruptions throughout the system and delays of up to 90 minutes at major gateways such as Chicago, New York, and San Francisco. Sequestration is also projected to result in staffing reductions for the Transportation Security Administration and the Customs and Border Patrol, needlessly requiring our citizens and visitors to wait in long queues.

This Washington, D.C.-style brinksmanship, and the damaging effects it promises to inflict, is embarrassing to all of us who work in aviation. Our goal is to provide passengers, shippers, and pilots with the best service possible; instead, policymakers' actions are not only depriving our users of responsive service, they are inflicting severe damage on those workers and fami lies who earn their livelihoods from this most important of industries, are stalling a key engine of the nations' economic growth, and are impeding modernization of the system to support future growth and competitiveness. It is hard to believe that policymakers choose to do this at a time when the nation is only starting to see sustainable growth and job creation in our nation's economy.

This latest episode is the second time in the last two years that FAA employees would be furloughed. For two weeks, beginning in July 2011, FAA authority lapsed, resulting in furloughing 4,000 FAA employees, reducing key services, and costing the Airport and Airway Trust Fund $400 million in lost revenues. Rather than irresponsibly enacting measures that continue to use the FAA and aviation industry as political pawns, policymakers should pause and begin a process of reforming FAA's policy, funding, and governance structure to ensure this does not happen again.

Increasingly frustrated by furloughs, 23 short-term extensions of FAA authority, and continuing resolutions which parcel out FAA funding by months, weeks, or even days over the last two years, the members of the MAC have considered a wide range of solutions to address this continued instability. Our steadfast intent has been to meet the important goals we have for our aviation system and to enable the FAA to make the critical investments for tomorrow's system, in~luding NextGen (converting from a ground-based to a satellite navigation system).

After analyzing the policy, funding, and underlying governance structure of the FAA, we unanimously believe that reform is vital if we are to put aviation policy and the FAA on a sound footing. We believe that policymakers should base their reform on four principles:

1. Create a Sustainable Financial Future for the FAA: Commit to a 10-year plan to bring financial stability to the FAA and programs such as NextGen by revitalizing the Airport and Airways Trust Fund as the principal source of FAA operations and funding.

2. Establish an FAA Governing Board: Create a governing board, representing aviation stakeholders and consisting of aviation and business leaders, to oversee FAA management priorities and strategic investments such as NextGen. Congressional oversight cou ld be maintained through committees or though representation on the FAA Board.

3. Assess and Codify FAA Authorities and Programs: Review current FAA statutory mandates to  determine if they provide the requisite balance between congressional direction and FAA management f lexibility. As Congress does so, it should examine FAA programs to determine if the ways they are delivered represent the most cost-effective way of addressing FAA goals. Examples should include a r.eview of the airport grant programs and PFCs in tandem with current FAA economic regulations and the balance between compliance and risk-management regulatory regimes.

4. Charge the FAA Governing Board with Recommending a New Tax and Fee Structure for Aviation Programs: The taxes and fees imposed on airline travel, many of which are necessary to fund the capital infrastructure and air traffic control services so important to the industry, today collectively lack a rationale and provide insufficient revenue to the industry. Together with the fees assessed by agencies under the responsibility of the Department of Homeland Security- the majority of which are opaque, not cost-based, and should be part of government's national security responsibilities- the system of FAA fees, as well as funding and financing options to implement its programs, should be reformed after careful deliberation with airlines, general aviation and the passengers, and shippers that rely on aviation services.

In a few short weeks, the members of the FAA MAC will release a more detailed plan to reform FAA policy, funding, and governance. In the meantime, we urge you to avoid another self-inflicted wound on the FAA and the NAS by stopping the sequestration process.

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