American Center for Progress paper does not Advance the Aviation Policy discussion

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Reauthorization of FAA  is THE issue before aviation in 2015. Congress faces enough governance and funding issues already. Historically these two legislative bodies are far more likely to enact legislation about which there is a fair amount of consensus. The insertion of thoughts about funding of the FAA Air Traffic Control system by the Center for American Progress on this complex issue is neither helpful nor enlightening.

For many years the aviation policy experts have debated the merits of user fees and it seemed as though the debate had now been settled on both merits and politics. For example, A4A, the original proponent of a user fee, which sought to shift the burden of the cost of the ATC system to other than the airlines, no longer propounds that solution as a primary goal.

Kevin DeGood, with a Masters of Public Policy, makes a case that the other users of the ATC should bear more of the cost for their flights through the system. [His previous job was with A4A.] The allocation of costs within a complex public infrastructure involves a high level knowledge of accounting and economics. A mere comparison of percentage of flights vs. contribution of taxes by the user is simplistic at best. That’s the primary analysis cited in support for his conclusion; that’s hardly convincing.

The first step in cost accounting is to determine what caused the utility to be sized to meet the demand of a user or class of user. The bean counter ,assigned to research the casual nexus between the size of the ATC system and the user requiring capital capacity as well as personnel costs, needs only go to any of the top 20 airports and watch the departures/arrivals at peak hours. The scheduled airlines operate flights during those hours which define the requirements of radars, computers, etc. needed to meet that demand as well as the Controllers needed to “man” the positions. They push the need for both capital and variable dollars by hubs, a sound economic model or US airlines. Return at off peak hours at the ORD, LGA, LAX, ATL, etc. and the diminution of demand is noticeable. The costs of the ATC infrastructure and personnel are required to handle scheduled operations.

Business and general aviation, in contrast, do not materially contribute to the size of the system. The operators do not bunch their flights, primarily use less congested airports and actually redirect their itineraries to avoid crowded sectors. Those are the points made in Mr. Bolen’s rebuttal.

The most unfortunate of Mr. DeGood’s broadside is his use of sensational phrase at the beginning of the FAA Reauthorization debate. His ideas add nothing; his analysis is circumspect at best; his rhetoric has greater volume than his assertions have merit. The Center appears to have less to do with Progress on American Aviation policy.

Acronyms used in this article (in order):

FAA: Federal Aviation Administration

A4A: Airlines For America

ATC: Air Traffic Control

ORD: O’Hare International Airport (Illinois)

LGA: LaGuardia Airport (New York)

LAX: Los Angeles International Airport (California)

ATL: Atlanta International Airport (Georgia)

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