FAA Administrator Michael Huerta on Friday told industry and government officials the fiscal uncertainty due to sequestration poses a threat to the agency's multibillion-dollar NextGen program.
Speaking at the annual public meeting of the NextGen Institute, Huerta said the sequester is "no way to run a business" and "no way to run a government."
"The biggest problem is the uncertainty," said Huerta. "This fiscal uncertainty challenges our ability to make the investments that we need to support modernization. And unless we get a long-term fix, we could be facing the same situation all over again in 10 days." After giving his speech at the meeting, the FAA chief said he was headed to a meeting with agency officials to discuss National Airspace System (NAS) operations in the event of a government shutdown, which could occur at the end of the month.
Huerta said he supports President Barack Obama's plan to replace the sequester cuts with a more balanced deficit reduction plan that would provide nearly $1 billion in funding for NextGen investments and $76.6 billion for the Department of Transportation's 2014 budget, a 5.5 percent increase above the 2012 enacted level. In contrast, the House Appropriations Committee has proposed a 2014 budget that would cut FAA spending by $756 million, an increase over the $637 million reduction that was enacted for the agency in 2013 as a result of the sequester.
The FAA administrator's comments came a day after the NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC) released its NextGen Prioritization Report. In the report, the NAC recommends giving highest priority to the continued implementation of performance-based navigation (PBN) approaches at airports and also recommends prioritizing the improvement of cruise and transition airborne operations by "using data communications to enable more efficient use of available or forecast capacity in the NAS."
Both Huerta and Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), who gave a speech at the meeting, agreed with the NAC's recommendations for prioritizing certain aspects of NextGen. Among those priorities, Larsen is supportive of Data Comm, which he referred to as a "program that should be protected even within a constrained environment."
Larsen is also concerned with the impact sequestration will have on NextGen implementation moving forward, and said that he is doubtful that the across-the-board budget cuts will be replaced when the government begins the 2014 fiscal year next week.
"Funding levels are really important and necessary to make NextGen happen," said Larsen. "Unless we can find a more balanced approach to the budget, [the] NextGen effort is going to continue to see budgetary constraints imposed by sequestration, and its not the way I would prefer it….but today, its a reality."