NextGen could spur jobs

As President Barack Obama and Congress continue to look for ways to accelerate job growth in a tough economic climate, civil aviation and travel associations are touting funding for the Next Generation Air Traffic System (NextGen) as an answer.

In a Nov. 23 letter to House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) and Ranking Member John Mica (R-Fla.), 19 associations, including AOPA, explained that funding for NextGen would “provide a platform for domestic job creation, thereby ensuring that the civil aviation and travel industries — which directly and indirectly generate over 10 million jobs and $1.2 trillion in economic activity annually — can continue to positively contribute to growth in the domestic economy.”

The letter comes in advance of Obama’s Forum on Jobs and Economic Growth, scheduled for Dec. 3, and on the heels of a Nov. 17 announcement that the House will consider job-growth legislation before the December recess.

Providing funding to move forward with the switch from ground-based radar to a satellite-based infrastructure would create thousands of jobs for engineers, software developers, and other high-tech workers, but pilots and maintenance facilities and travel and tourism companies also would benefit from the push to switch to the new system. This would be a welcomed boost for the industries that have suffered massive blows since the 2001 terrorist attacks. General aviation activity has decreased 35%, and employment at GA companies has fallen 50%, the letter states.

“Funding NextGen will help fund GA, and that will produce benefits for every corner of the country,” said AOPA President Craig Fuller. “This type of funding would benefit Main Street, not just Wall Street.”

Moving forward with the new air traffic control system also would improve aviation safety, reduce delays, cut carbon emissions, and help the United States remain a world leader in aviation, he said.

The European Union, Australia, and Canada are surpassing the United States in implementing NextGen, and the United States must act quickly to retain its leadership position, according to the groups. “Other countries like China and India will look to either the U.S. or Europe for leadership as they develop their air traffic control systems,” the letter says. “If the U.S. does not demonstrate leadership in deploying these technologies, opportunities for U.S. manufacturers and workers will be lost.”

While the United States traditionally has not been viewed as a “green” country, “accelerated NextGen implementation also has the potential to put aviation at the forefront of ‘green’ initiatives,” the groups said, citing the Government Accountability Office’s statistics that NextGen could cut carbon emissions 12%, which would be equal to “taking 2.2 million cars off the road for one year.”

“Expedited NextGen investment will eliminate a significant drag on the nation’s economy and transform aviation into a powerful job creator in the near term,” the groups concluded. “With a commitment to fund expedited NextGen, we can provide a short-term economic boost, and also provide the infrastructure which will lead to long-term efficiencies and economic growth.”

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