NextGen < High Speed Rail in Obama Administration FY14 Budget. Why? Aviation need look into a Mirror to see Why.

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ARTICLE: DOT Budget and Performance

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President Obama issued his Administration’s FY 2014 budget yesterday. While the FAA’s overall budget was reduced, the dollars proposed for NextGen increased by a mere 7%. The Administration’s choices as to funds for transportation programs speak volumes as to what the aviation industry supports or does not fully embrace. But even the lukewarm endorsement of NextGen by A4A, RAA et al. does not explain the Obama Budget’s massive infusion of cash to HIGH SPEED RAIL.

One report set the NextGen number at $928 M in the FAA’s F&E account and an odd supplement of $1B in the DoT’s $50 billion account for infrastructure improvements and job creation. In particular, the DoT money would pay for a “new NextGen future facility in the New York area” set at $225 million of funds. These numbers were ferreted out by Sean Broderick, an expert writer for Aviation Week. Another good analysis of the proposed accounts can be found here.

NextGen is touted as infrastructure critical for aviation’s future and the FAA has several laudatory documents supporting its grand design with great returns. A recent GAO study questions whether the major users of (also read “payers for”) this massive investment believe that the returns are as good as the FAA has claimed.

The industry was silent on a meager 7% increase in NextGen. For example, yesterday no complaints about the underfunding of NextGen were heard from A4A, RAA, AIA, ACI, AAAE (ACI and AAE both had comments on PFCs), AOPA , GAMA, NATA or NBAA (all 4 of these registered vociferous complaints about the GA user fee and cancellation of aircraft depreciation).

For the Administration, maybe the White House and OMB, BIG NEWS of the FY14 DoT budget is the $6.4 billion to continue construction of a national high performance rail network. Coincidentally, the DoT funding includes $53 billion for highway, transit, and highway safety programs.

High speed rail is an odd choice for $6B of our tax dollars in that it is far more controversial. Many critics have made arguments that the added speed does not result in operating revenues to support the federal dollars in this infrastructure. NPR, not known for being a critic of the Obama Administration, issued a report that the passenger only, highly subsidized high speed rail will harm one of America’s well performing transportation sector, the freight rail. To be fair, the New York Times has a full web site on the positives of this form of transportation.

Maybe the FAA has not fully justified NextGen’s value, but it is hardly the apparently bad bet that high speed rail is. There is no argument that the ATC must be modernized. Maybe there is a need for greater substantiation of the return on investment and perhaps a shearing of some of the nice-to-haves. What is really required now is a consensus between and among the FAA and all of the user groups about NextGen, each of its major sub-systems, their collective and individual valuation and the funding. Without leadership, NextGen will remain as second best to less meritorious programs like High Speed rail.

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