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NBAA’s Bolen Urges Thoughtful Approach to ‘NextGen’ Aviation Funding

May 28, 2013

National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) President and CEO Ed Bolen told an aviation industry forum in Washington on June 27 that stakeholders should take a careful approach in recommending funding and other structural reforms to the world’s leading aviation system.

“We have seen many economic, social and global challenges over the past 15 to 20 years, and we have continued as the leader of the world’s largest, most diverse and sophisticated air transportation system,” Bolen said during a panel discussion about Next Generation (NextGen) modernization funding issues.

“We need to be careful that we preserve what makes the U.S. aviation system so great and unique,” he said, noting that America’s vibrant business aviation community is among those leadership factors.

Sponsored by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) and Airline Pilots Association International (ALPA), panelists described the difficulties facing NextGen efforts in the uncertain funding environment created by the sequester (across-the-board cuts to federal agencies), including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Despite the many challenges facing U.S. aviation, panelists agreed that industry stakeholders are moving in the right direction by convening discussions about reasonable approaches to reform funding for important programs like NextGen.

President of Airlines for America Nicholas Calio pointed out that a national policy approach is needed to “treat the industry as the strategic asset that it is for the nation.” Such a national policy should include a fresh look at the tax and regulatory structure and how to provide adequate, steady funding for NextGen, and also should include a restructuring of the FAA itself, in light of global aviation competition, he said.

Bolen echoed Calio’s comments, suggesting that “helping to make aviation a national priority is fundamental for all of us. The aviation system is vital to the nation’s global economic leadership and jobs growth, and the business aviation industry is an essential component of that.”

He told the audience that NBAA’s 9,000-plus Members rely on business aviation to compete and succeed in a demanding market, adding that “anything a user fee system can do for us, the fuel tax mechanism does better.

“Business aviation fully supports paying for its share of the system using the fuel tax – it’s easy, simple, fast and efficient,” Bolen said, adding that it creates no administrative burden on companies, and it does not require a costly bureaucracy to operate.

Panelist Robert Poole of the Reason Foundation, a longtime advocate of a user fee approach, used the challenges posed by the sequester to argue for a fresh look at privatization, citing Canada as a successful example.

Captain Lee Moak, president of ALPA, disagreed, saying, “I don’t think it should be a pay-only system for people who use it.”

Bolen explained that “we need to be careful on the steps we take as we move forward,” pointing out that Canada has 10 percent of the U.S. population and economy, and an air transportation system 5 percent the size of the U.S. system.

“Our system does have problems, no question about that,” he said. “But we should not forget that over the past 15 years we have seen an almost unbroken line of funding increases for the FAA.”

Other panelists included Paul Rinaldi, NATCA president, and Roger Cohen, president of the Regional Airlines Association.