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Business Aviation Works to Mitigate Sequester's Impact

March 11, 2013

Business aviation was well-represented at a recently held, major annual policy forum, which this year focused on a matter of immediate importance to NBAA Members.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) 38th Forecast & Policy Summit, a yearly gathering of aviation public-sector leaders and industry stakeholders held March 6 in Washington, DC, focused on the impact of sequestration on the nation’s aviation community.

Sequestration, or mandatory across-the-board spending cuts at federal agencies, was called for in legislation passed by congress in 2011 as a means of lowering the national deficit. As originally conceived, sequestration’s indiscriminate cuts were believed to be so untenable to policymakers that other measures would be pursued to lower the deficit before the cuts were required to be enacted. But, to-date, a comprehensive deficit-reduction plan has not been enacted by Congress, putting into motion the legislative requirement for sequestration.

As the situation entered its second week, federal officials reported that budget cuts required under sequestration would curtail available resources, including those needed for providing aviation services. The circumstances framed the opening panel discussion, at the FAA’s conference, where NBAA Chief Operating Officer Steve Brown reported on the concerns that have been raised by NBAA Members as the sequester has taken effect.

“Will flights be delayed? Will my airport's tower be open? Will security processing by Customs and Border Protection be affected? These are just some of the questions NBAA Members have raised,” Brown said. “We in the business aviation community recognize the unique and challenging nature of this situation, but we also want to ensure we have a seat at the table as FAA officials consider how best to continue aviation system operations in a safe and equitable manner.”

The FAA’s summit panel wasn’t the only venue in which Brown has been expressed that sentiment, and worked to represent the perspectives of NBAA Members before FAA officials.

As a former associate FAA administrator himself, Brown is one of a handful of industry stakeholders working closely with government officials to mitigate the impacts of operations cutbacks on vital air services, including access for general aviation users.

In fact, at the close of the panel, Brown noted that NBAA would be among the industry stakeholders meeting later in the week with FAA officials “to provide our feedback on the impacts the FAA’s sequester proposals will have, and to propose some alternatives that will keep more towers open.”

As he pointed out during the panel discussion, “We’re very concerned about sequestration, and the drag it will have on economic growth. This is not the smart way to deal with our fiscal issues. But just as important, from the public’s point of view, is that sequestration’s impact on aviation is going to be a very hard hit on smaller communities and rural areas. It’s going to be felt in a lot of places across the country.”

If the FAA had the flexibility to “manage these cuts in a rational business way,” Brown told the audience, “then a 3-4 per cent rate of efficiencies could be obtained by making choices that would not affect operations on a day-to-day basis.”

The sequester is a symptom of the increasing difficulty of convincing policymakers to make long-term decisions to invest in critical infrastructure, a problem Brown says he experienced first-hand when as an FAA official he testified before congressional appropriators about the need to replace 40- and 45-year-old air traffic control towers. “It was obvious that you’re not first in line,” he said.

In response to a question about what can be done, Brown asked if now isn’t the best time for the industry to be communicating the impacts that the sequester will have on communities across the country, to which Chip Barclay, CEO of the American Association of Airport Executives, replied, “absolutely, and they are. Closing these small towers is DefCon One” for many airports.