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FAA Reauthorization: Q&A with AIA’s VP of Civil Aviation

By Juliet Van Wagenen | September 21, 2015
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[Avionics Magazine 09-21-2015] At the end of September, federal funding for the U.S. aviation system in the form of the FAA 2012 Federal Modernization Reform Act (FMRA) is set to run out. With the deadline fast approaching and the likelihood of lawmakers enacting a Continuing Resolution (CR), Avionics Magazine caught up with Ali Bahrami, vice president for civil aviation at the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), to determine how further delays to reauthorization could impact the aviation industry.

Ali Bahrami, vice president of civil aviation, AIA
Ali Bahrami, vice president of civil aviation, AIA. Photo: AIA

Avionics Magazine: The upcoming FAA reauthorization has been delayed to Sept. 30th and rumors are it may be delayed for another six months. How might further delays impact the industry in both the long and short term?

Bahrami: The 2012 FMRA had a number of provisions that we believe were important to safe and steady aviation growth. The FAA certification processes improvement, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) integration into the national air space, and creation of a Chief NexGen Officer within the FAA are some of the provisions of the Act that helped the aviation industry. Of course, we have not yet seen draft legislative language, but we have been working with appropriate committees to build on the good work that started with the implementation of the FMRA. We hope to maintain the momentum on all those areas.

A delay could create a ‘wait and see’ attitude, which will translate into lack of progress, which has both short- and long-term effects on aviation growth. Also, under a CR agencies are usually not allowed to initiate new projects and initiatives that may be needed to improve infrastructure.

However, the inability to plan activities because of unknowns associated with budgetary and legislatives mandates are among the most damaging consequences of possible delays. We had 23 extensions and over 4.5 years before the last reauthorization. But, a few years after it was signed, we are seeing real progress in certification improvements, NextGen and UAS integration. If these initiatives had been passed four years earlier, they might have helped at a time when the economy was struggling. We hope that we do not have to go through another experience like that.

Avionics Magazine: Do you have reason to believe Congress will pass the reauthorization act by Sept. 30th?

Bahrami: I wish I could respond positively to your question. Unfortunately, we do not see any indication that it is possible to have a final bill by Sept. 30. We hope any extension can be minimized, however.

Avionics Magazine: What do you believe is holding up Congress’ reauthorization of the act?

Bahrami: The FMRA of 2012 has given us a very good foundation to build on. It has, for the most part, given us a good starting point and a common understanding of the intent and the direction of Congress. Earlier this summer, a lack of consensus on Air Traffic Control (ATC) reform emerged as an issue that could delay FAA reauthorization.  Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Congressman Bill Shuster has asked stakeholders to try and find a consensus, but so far that hasn’t happened.

Although that one issue is not a trivial matter, we hope that Congress focuses on the importance of the totality of provisions where consensus can be reached, and does not let a single issue delay the reauthorization indefinitely. AIA and General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) sent joint letters to leaders of both House and Senate committees urging them to move forward with the FAA reauthorization.

Avionics Magazine: Is it likely we’ll see similar delays to those associated with the 2012 FMRA?

Bahrami: No, we do not expect to see the same magnitude of delays that held up the FMRA’s passage. We believe the congressional committees are sincere in their desire to reach compromises and get a final bill passed without excessive delays.

Avionics Magazine: What are some of the changes AIA hopes to see in the new act?

Bahrami: Our members are very interested in changes and improvements to certification processes. Product approval delays impact time-to-market and global competitiveness of our industry. We would like to see better coordination of UAS research activities among all the federal agencies conducting UAS research, and development of a coordinated research plan.

We believe implementation of NexGen is getting on the right track and it is time to develop goals related to the operational performance metrics in FMRA to accelerate progress and increase program management accountability.

Avionics Magazine: What is AIA’s stance on the move to reform the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization (ATO) such as that proposed by Chairman Shuster earlier this year?

Bahrami: Increased capacity, global interoperability, and the safety of the National Airspace System (NAS) are necessary prerequisites for continued and steady growth of the air transportation system. The current U.S. Air Traffic Management (ATM) system is one of the finest in the world, primarily funded by a relatively simple system of aviation taxes. Historically, and even today, the drivers for change have been the lack of adequate and stable funding, along with slow deployment of NextGen related capabilities. Although structural reform may lead to a satisfactory future state, it will pose more complex challenges that will prolong the transition period and introduce additional inefficiencies associated with the change process.

AIA believes that the FAA reauthorization should achieve the following basic objectives:
1.    Provide a budgeting and funding process that gives long-term visibility, stability and predictability to ATC operations, capital funding, and the development and application of NextGen technologies.
2.    Ensure the FAA’s ability to maintain its critical aircraft certification and safety oversight missions as well as to enhance its certification process.
3.    Enable safe and timely integration of UAS into the NAS.

Should the reauthorization include ATC reform, the following objectives should also be achieved:

•    An effective governance structure and capital decision-making process that includes participation of key stakeholders, including equipment manufacturers and firms with air traffic management development and manufacturing expertise in NextGen technologies and systems.
•    A streamlined acquisition process that reduces the time from concept to implementation so that technology does not become obsolete before it is implemented.

We also stress that the government should ensure that ATC reform does not result in:

•    User fees, increased costs, schedule risks, or other performance issues for the FAA’s Aircraft Certification Service or any associated support activities;
•    User fees for airspace access that would have a disproportionate impact on general and business aviation; or
•    Reduced access or service to rural and underserved areas.

Avionics Magazine: Many argue that with a newly created Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP), funding would be steadier, do you believe this assessment is true? How would steadier funding impact the current ATC system and would there be other effects on the current ATC system?

Bahrami: Well, success depends on actual implementation strategy, efficient and effective processes and governance. We all know what happened back in October 2013 because of sequestration. Unfortunately, those kinds of events can’t be ruled out in the future. If there is consensus among the stakeholders with respect to funding and we have an effective governance model, then we will have a good chance to achieve the objectives. This is a long-term issue and we cannot solve it by looking only at the next couple of years.

It is all about planning the work statement and knowing that you will have the resources you need when you need them. 

Avionics Magazine: What do you foresee in regards to the next FAA reauthorization and its impact on the aviation industry in the coming 1 to 2 years?

Bahrami: For now, I would like to remain optimistic concerning timely reauthorization of the FAA. No one wants to go through what we experienced the last time. I cannot speculate on how ATC reform might turn out. We have not seen draft language, because the bill that was supposed to be released back in July of this year has been delayed. We, along with other stakeholders, will have a better idea of our position once a draft bill is released for public review.

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