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ARTICLE: Air travel at risk of sharp decline


The disaster that will befall the US economy if the President and Congress do not undo what was set in stone in 2011 is not news. The point of this budgetary enactment was to compel Congress and the Executive Branch to make meaningful reductions in spending. The “cliff” are draconian cuts in spending on an arithmetical, virtually irrational basis and the termination of legislation that reduced taxes. AIA has been harping on this subject for many months and the reality is precipitously close. The attached Miami Herald story merely recites numbers and consequences that have been public knowledge for months—as the variation of a Samuel Johnson quote says—“nothing so sharpens the attention as the shadow of the gallows”. THE CLIFF IS UPON US.

Actually, the statement that sequestration is ABOUT to happen is wrong; from a spending standpoint, the cliff hit at the start of Fiscal Year 2013 which on the federal calendar is October 1, 2012. Unless the FAA reduced its spending already, the $1,000,000,000 that must be cut will be applied OVER THE REMAINING 9 MONTHS OF FY13. That means that at a normal spending rate, a quarter of the FAA’s annual budget of $15.8 B has been expended and therefore that billion will be whacked off the remainder.

Another complication is that SOME of the FAA’s FY 2013 is protected against “sequestration.” Todd Hauptli, AAAE’s President of Government Relations, explained that the funds committed to airport improvement are protected against the 2011 budget axe.

AIA’s study issued in August (referenced in the last link) conservatively estimated that the Calendar Year 2013 FAA budget would be reduced by 15%. The same pundits optimistically expressed the opinion that the Administrator would surgically cut the budget in ways that would not harm safety, not reduce ATC staffing (i.e. not requiring fewer flights), not restricting the number of new products to be certificated, etc. The only public pronouncement on the issue by the Acting Administrator was not quite so optimistic:

“If the sequester were to occur, we would face some very drastic cuts in services and these investments. These cuts would impact air traffic control services, NextGen implementation, and aircraft certification–all of which are critical to our ability to move forward with aviation in this century. They would result in significantly less efficient and less convenient air travel service for the American traveling public. We will always, however, maintain the highest levels of safety.”

The only hope is that the current negotiations find some resolution, according to the AOPA President Craig Fuller, whose tenure in the White House is the source of such stratospheric conversations. His best guess was articulated in an interview with AOPA Live This Week for the Dec. 6 edition, where he said it is expected that “Congress will get some kind of deal done by the end of the year, but that it may not be the final word.”

To summarize:

  • Within 20 days
  • If the 2011 act is not voided
  • The FAA will be mandated to reduce its spending by at least 15%
  • All of the programs, except the airport trust fund expenditures, will be affected
  • That means the effective impact on ATC, Safety, NextGen, Space Transpiration, International, etc. will be substantial

Those, who earn their living in aviation safety must hope, perhaps pray is a more apt term, that the path over the cliff is avoided!

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