Wailing and gnashing of teeth over 2006 federal budget begins

WASHINGTON, D.C. — That loud explosion you heard earlier this month from here wasn’t a terrorist attack — it was reaction to the Fiscal Year 2006 budget submitted to Congress by President Bush.

Howls from general aviation interests were loud, but only a small blip in the sound level generated by the politicians and lobbyists representing myriad programs. True to his campaign promises, President Bush calls for less government, less spending and elimination of unproductive programs. In this city that is commendable — if it’s someone else’s programs, but not mine.

The total FAA request is $13.78 billion. This is a cut of about 1.27% from the $14.1 billion of FY 2005. About 89% of FAA programs will be funded from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund resources obtained from excise taxes and interest. The budget forecasts that revenue from the trust fund will be $11.9 billion.

Immediately upon release of the budget request, general aviation interests began expressing concerns. “”I am concerned that the administration is neglecting to look at the big picture when it comes to analyzing our national aviation system,”" declared James Coyne, president of the National Aviation Transportation Association (NATA). He lamented the cuts in the Facilities and Equipment (F&E) account and the Airport Improvement (AIP) program. The F&E request is for $2.448 billion, a cut of about $422 million from 2005.

The AIP figure for FY 2006 is reduced $500 million from the 2005 figure, a figure that worries Phil Boyer, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). He says the cut will hurt general aviation airports more than those used by airlines because of “”somewhat arcane formulas written into the law.”" The set-aside for GA airports would be reduced from 20% to 18.5%, giving these airports a smaller portion of the aid. General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) is troubled that the budget for NASA’s aeronautics work is trimmed. “”NASA’s support for high-risk, preemptive aeronautics research could compromise long-term development of breakthrough technologies to improve safety and efficiency,”" stated Ron Swanda, interim president of the manufacturers group. He also declared a concern that a cut in funding for certification services “”could slow introduction of new and improved general aviation products.”"

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) jumped in to declare the cut in funding shows FAA hiring fewer new controllers than it had said earlier. John Carr, NATCA president, said FAA had promised to hire 1,249 new controllers, but the request for funding would allow only 595 new hires.

The budget has a long way to go before the figures are set. Between now and September, when the budget must be approved, members of Congress will argue among themselves and will receive pleas, promises, and proposals from an army of special interest groups. The figures will change, but not the wailing and gnashing of teeth from those whose pet projects are cut most.

CAPITAL SHORTS

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has taken over from the FAA responsibility for the DC-3 airports — three general aviation fields in the suburbs of Washington that were first closed and then severely curtailed in activity since Sept. 11. Transient pilots will be allowed to operate at the three airports if they comply with TSA-mandated security and procedures.

The FAA awarded its contract to operate flight service stations to a team headed by Lockheed Martin. Outsourcing this work will save the agency $2.2 billion over the next 10 years, the agency declares.

The National Association of Air Traffic Specialists (NAATS), which represents employees who work the flight service stations, immediately filed an age-discrimination complaint against the FAA. The complaint identifies 1,935 controllers adversely affected by contracting out the work. “”We have been forced into a legal battle over our federal jobs and retirement benefits that our members have worked for and earned and are now being denied,”" said Kate Breen, NAATS president.

Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.

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