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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

AOPA: Sequestration Cuts Disproportionately Impact General Aviation Operations

Woodrow Bellamy III

The $85 billion automatic across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration that went into effect last Friday will disproportionately impact the general aviation (GA) community, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA).

In a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, AOPA President Craig Fuller said the closure of air traffic control towers and furloughing air traffic controllers would lead to greater delays. Towers at the smaller GA airports provide relief to larger airports that serve commercial air traffic and that the closures would impact the entire system as a result.  

FAA’s budget was reduced by more than $620 million for fiscal year 2013, which ends Sept. 30. The agency was not given much flexibility in how the cuts are to be applied to its operating budget, resulting in furloughs for employees and the planned closure of 238 air traffic control towers across the country, mainly at small and medium-sized airports.  According to a recent statement from the U.S. Contract Tower Association, the agency plans to close about 43 FAA-staffed towers and another 195 that are operated by outside contractors.

“Contract towers handle approximately 28 percent of all air traffic control tower operations in the United States, but account for just 14 percent of the FAA’s total tower operations budget. On average, a contract tower operates at one-third the cost of a federal contract tower while achieving the same high level of safety. For these reasons alone, it is illogical to dismember this program in a budget reduction scenario,” Fuller said.

The AOPA president said that the closures, combined with the Obama administration’s proposal to impose a $100-per-flight user fee on general aviation and lengthen the tax depreciation schedule for business aircraft would lead to a reduction in overall GA activity, which would have severe consequences for smaller communities where the “local airport is an important economic driver.”

AOPA has suggested cost-saving measures that it wants FAA to consider as alternatives to the planned tower closures and furloughs to its employees, including an online aircraft registration process and outsourcing the work of the FAA’s Safety Team, which provides aviation safety training, outreach and education.  The organization has also called for changes to the agency's process for renewing licenses for certified flight instructors (CFIs). 

"In the past we’ve proposed that the FAA eliminate the expiration data on a CFI and have a provision for proof of currency in order to exercise the privileges of the CFI. This would eliminate the cost and staff time dedicated to processing and sending out renewals," Steve Hedges, a spokesman for AOPA said in a statement to Avionics Magazine.

Last week Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Ranking Member John Thune (R-S.D.) and House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood urging FAA to find alternatives to the planned tower closures and furloughs as well.

The tower closures are reportedly not final yet, and FAA will issue a final closure list next week. More

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