Nation’s money woes put GA in hot seat

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Money is the name of the game as the President and Congress wrestle over what to do with the massive debt the nation has accumulated and to consider a budget for the coming year.

The Democratic-controlled Senate hasn’t passed a budget for three years. The Republican-controlled House has failed to convince the Senate to even discuss settling on a budget. While the battles continue over whether to tax more or cut expenses, general aviation has a number of issues to look out for in the President’s proposal for fiscal year 2013.

The President’s budget request for the FAA is $15.2 billion, a decrease of $730 million from the last fiscal year. This decrease is due largely to the President’s proposed reduction in funding for the Grants-in-Aid for Airports program. Currently, $2 billion is requested for the program. The budget proposal, however, does focus on federal grants “to support smaller commercial and general aviation airports that do not have access to additional revenue or other outside sources of capital.”

The much-talked-about $100 “user fee” is still on the table. As it stands now, all piston-powered airplanes and recreational flights would be exempt from the fee, which would assess $100 for each flight for corporate jets and airline flights. An issue not detailed in the budget is who would pay and how, but it is gaining more opposition from communities that recognize that these fees would harm their local economies by diverting many business flights at a time when airlines are curtailing flights to airports with few passengers. This looms as a possible major issue as the number of voters involved is relatively small compared to tax increases on others in the general population.

The President also is requesting $1 billion for the Next Generation Air Traffic System (NextGen), with many involved in the massive infrastructure project worried that cutting this investment could set the program back several years.

For operation, maintenance, communications, and logistical support for air traffic control and navigation systems, the president is requesting $9.7 billion.

The coming weeks and months will be lively for politicians and lobbyists as common ground is sought on these and other budget issues.

A possible setback for general aviation is that the recent election cut the ranks of GA supporters in Congress. According to Lorraine Howerton, VP of legislative affairs for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the House General Aviation Caucus lost 39 of its 190 members, while the Senate GA Caucus lost three of its 39 members. Leadership of both caucuses remains the same but, because this is a new Congress, returning members will have to rejoin.

Dealing with Congress and government agencies concerned with general aviation has never been an easy task. The coming weeks will bring many issues to ensure that task remains difficult, but there are bright spots. General aviation caucuses exist in both the House and Senate, and they did not a few years back. Aviation’s alphabet groups are working more closely together than in the past. There seems to be a better understanding of what general aviation is and does. But now, more than in the past, money is the leading subject.

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

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