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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Aviation Groups Express Support, Opposition to ATC Reform

Woodrow Bellamy III 

[Avionics Today 05-21-2015] As lawmakers consider a major change to the current structure of the FAA as both a safety regulator and Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP), representatives of commercial airlines and business aviation operators are divided on how to move forward. In a hearing before the Senate commerce committee on Tuesday, May 19, Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) strongly opposed the creation of a private entity responsible for Air Traffic Control (ATC) while Airlines for America (A4A) Chairman and United Airlines President and CEO Jeff Smisek expressed support for the change. 
 
 
From Left to Right: FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, John Engler, President of Business Roundtable, Byron Dorgan, Senior Policy Advisor for Arent Fox LLP, Jeff Smisek, President and CEO of United Airlines, Paul Rinaldi, President of NATCA, Ed Bolen, President and CEO of NBAA at the Senate hearing on the FAA Reauthorization.
 
Smisek believes the FAA should retain its current role as a safety regulator, providing certification of airplanes and ensuring safety of air transportation operations. However, A4A — with the exception of member carrier Delta Airlines, which does not support a private ANSP — is asking lawmakers to consider separating the ATC operations and safety regulation functions of the FAA and to create a new user-fee funded non-profit corporation with an independent, multi-stakeholder board of governance free from political influence over decision-making. 
 
"What we have today does not work and we have candidly little to no confidence that there will be a stream of stable funding for modernization of the air traffic control system or the ability of the FAA to attract and retain qualified people to implement it or a change to how the FAA operates with respect to stakeholders in terms of collaboration," Smisek said in response to lawmaker’s question regarding the new ATC model that he supports. 
 
One of the leading reasons cited by Smisek and A4A regarding the need for reform is a lack of confidence that the FAA as it is currently structured can adequately implement all of the initiatives of its NextGen modernization program. During his testimony, Smisek noted the recent FAA-sponsored National Research Council (NRC) Report, which indicates that the agency should "reset expectations" for NextGen. NRC's report states that the original version of NextGen is not what is being implemented today, and that "NextGen today primarily emphasizes replacing and modernizing aging equipment and systems" and lacks a "system architecture that defines how the pieces of the system fit together and allows for modeling and reasoning about possible futures."
 
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, who also testified during the hearing, noted progress with recent achievements such as the completion of the ground network of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) stations, En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) and the ongoing implementation of Performance Based Navigation (PBN) procedures to make the airways in and around the nation's busiest airports more efficient, supportive and accommodating for modern avionics navigation technology. 
 
To continue that type of progress with NextGen though, other witnesses at the hearing, such as former Senator Byron Dorgan, believe that an FAA set up reflective of the Canadian model in which the ANSP and safety certification roles are operated separately, would lead to more efficient governance of the project, providing more steady funding. 
 
"The stability of funding for a project of this type is essential," said Dorgan, referring to NextGen. "I served in Congress 30 years and there's a lot I don't know, but I do know this: In a time of spending restraint, in a time of sequestration, in a time of multiple continuing resolutions, there will not be stable funding for this type of project in the future unless it comes through bonding capability in another type of organization. It is important to note that I don't support something that doesn't have the government as a stakeholder."
 
The business aviation community takes a different view of the issues associated with creating a private ANSP in the U.S., which features the world's most complex airspace with 512 air traffic control towers compared to just 42 in Canada and 16 in the U.K., which provide some of the models that A4A and other groups researched. NBAA has taken a position against privatization with the stance that it could create less access to airspace and airports than is currently available. Bolen noted that the business aviation operational communities in countries with private ANSPs, such as Australia, have problems with access to airspace and that the transition to a private ANSP would be too costly and complex. 
 
"We've studied various structures around the world, we've looked at Australia, New Zealand, England, Canada — in none of these markets do we see a robust business aviation community that is providing economic development in small towns and rural communities. In Australia, for example, business aviation is not allowed access to airspace in Melbourne or Sydney on a prioritized basis at all, so we end up waiting sometimes 3, 4 and 5 hours on the tarmac sometimes to get access," said Bolen. 
 
"As we've looked at NATS in the UK, we saw that after an economic downturn that privatized group needed a bailout from the tax payers. When we've looked at Canada, we see that they have instituted user charges, which are very problematic while continuing fuel taxes. So what we've seen are a lot of fundamental problems. To simply say we're going to pull this out and give it borrowing authority leaves a lot of concerns about our ability to safely and efficiently and affordability access airspace," he added.
 

Congress has until Sept. 30, at which time the 2012 reauthorization legislation will expire, to ultimately decide what the FAA will look like going forward. 

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