FAA Administrator Michael Huerta on Thursday outlined the impact of the the recent 16-day federal government shutdown on his agency’s overhaul of the nation’s air traffic management system and also called for a restructuring of its funding model during a speech at the Aero Club of Washington D.C.
The shutdown was the latest setback for the FAA, which was forced to trim its 2013 operating budget by $637 million due to the sequester. Going forward, the across-the-board budget cuts also forces the agency to choose between investing in NextGen or reducing a $5 billion backlog of deferred maintenance on air traffic control towers and other government-run facilities throughout the National Airspace System (NAS).
"It will take time to assess the backlog of work that developed during the shutdown. NextGen work was stopped or reduced. We issued about a thousand stop-work orders on contracts, which we have rescinded now," said Huerta.
FAA expects NextGen, a switch from a radar-based air traffic system to a satellite-based model, to eventually provide airlines with fuel savings of $2.3 million per year with more precise routes and increased use of Performance-Based Navigation (PBN).
The agency did not respond to phone calls or emails regarding exactly which of the NextGen programs were delayed due to the shutdown. However, Huerta made it clear that the agency needs more certainty with its funding going forward.
"It’s hard to push the ‘pause’ button on a complicated and wide scale operational agency like the FAA. Suddenly speeding it up or slowing it down – either direction – is extraordinarily disruptive. We operate most efficiently and effectively under conditions of certainty," said Huerta.