Blakey’s Comments on Sequestration and NextGen should be a call to Action within all Segments of Aviation NOW

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REUTERS SUMMIT-U.S. air traffic control overhaul at risk -aerospace trade group CEO

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There are few in Washington who know better how Sequestration has effected and will impact the FAA than AIA’s CEO, Marion C. Blakey. Her previous job was the FAA Administrator. There she fought within the Administration and with Capitol Hill to build the agency’s budget for investing in the air traffic control infrastructure of the future. At the same time she exercised considerable financial discipline, cutting programs which did not merit more dollars.
As the head of that defense and civil aviation trade association, she sees the buyer/user side of the effect of across-the-board, irrational cuts. The FAA, out of a policy directive to maintain the funds that are required to sustain real time safety operations, has to defer expenses today that are critical building blocks for future NextGen developments. She stated her case as follows:

“’The chances are excellent that the investment accounts will be hit much the hardest,’ she said, speaking at the Reuters office in Washington, D.C. Blakey is also a former FAA administrator.
‘The investment that’s required can be derailed in the course of a single year – 2014 – by the sequestration cuts.’
When the government is faced with curtailing current operations, which is felt immediately, ‘usually what has to go is the R&D, the investments,’ she said. ‘That’s what we very much fear because it’s eating this country’s economic seed corn in a terrible way.’”

The current Administrator, Michael Huerta, testified that interpretation of the Sequestration Act by OMB, required that the cuts be applied uniformly on each account without regard to whether such reductions made good sense. The Republican Chair of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, which has authorizing jurisdiction, disagreed. Others suggested that the cuts of air traffic controllers and contract towers, in particular, were intended to be a politically motivated “Washington Monument” tactic. The Congress quickly passed legislation which allowed the FAA to transfer funds from other accounts and restore the ATC dollars. The “fire drill” on FAA and Sequestration has been done and lessons were learned. Or were they?

Ms. Blakey is correct that the problems are real and compounding. This is one issue on which all segments of aviation agree. Ought not the airlines, pilots, manufacturers, general aviation, controller unions and all other segments move as a single wing to do something NOW, administrative or legislative actions such as:

  • convince OMB to be more reasonable in its interpretation,
  • lobby the appropriating committees to clarify the intent of the Sequestration Act,
  • create support for enactment of legislation which gives the FAA specific guidance as to Sequestration cuts,
  • pass legislation to exempt the FAA’s safety and NextGen budgets from Sequestration like the protection given to transportation infrastructure (roads, airports, etc.) grants or something else.

Whatever should be done must be started now. Aviation safety has had its repeated encounters with fiscal cliffs as the FAA’s Reauthorization Bill ran through years of silly extensions.

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