WASHINGTON, D.C. — What can general aviation expect in the coming year?
That question has aviation-focused personnel in Washington wondering. Uncertainty is not limited to aviation. The grim financial situation of near $17 trillion debt and political debates on what to do about it bring uncertainty to a point where “but what if” is tempering speculation.
In past years, speculation and predictions could be based on experience, by guess, by golly, and by government. Not so for 2013. The bitter differences between politicians over sequestration and the “fiscal cliff” show the President, the Democrat-controlled Senate, and Republican-controlled House have their sleeves rolled up for some major confrontations. General aviation will find itself in the midst of some issues directly, and others indirectly. As this is written, there is nothing but confusion. Only slight movements have been shown by all parties.
Sequestration came about because the parties could not agree on financial matters about 18 months ago and kicked the can down the road for others to solve. Whether the lame duck Congress and the President can come to an agreement now or will put decisions off to later is not known. Either way, whether there is movement to prevent going over the fiscal cliff or once again the can is kicked down the road for others to solve, money, jobs, national debt, and fees and taxes will be the center of future events and affect GA’s programs, actions, and growth.
How much money the FAA might have in the coming year will direct what it does and accomplishes. This will be affect everything from the length of time it takes to certify products through air traffic control to development of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). A budget cut would mean fewer personnel to conduct certification, probably the closing of some control towers or reductions in times of operation, slower issuances of certificates, and other similar work of the FAA.
Funding will be the main issue to watch in development of NextGen. Some have stated that any reduction in funding could delay completion of NextGen development for as much as 10 years. But slow or fast, much still remains to be solved on NextGen. (See Capital Comments column on page 9.)
Whatever the speed, advancement of NextGen sooner or later will bring changes to airspace rules around major airports. Moving more aircraft into and out of airports faster cannot be accomplished unless there are more runways. As NextGen moves forward, look for increased pressure to restrict GA use of certain airports.
Opening airspace for general aviation might be considered by the FAA using a plan proposed by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) before the adoption of classes of airspace. That is narrow approach and departure corridors from and to 10,000 feet altitude, opening more airspace at lower altitudes for less expensive general aviation airports. Funding will determine when these changes may be discussed.
Funding questions also are certain to bring the subject of user fees early in the year. Taxes must be approved by Congress; fees may be applied by agencies and departments without Congressional consent. President Obama continues the call for user fees, so GA advocates will have this issue confronting them. Both the President and Congress are looking for additional sources of revenue — and they are looking for places where getting it will make the fewest people angry enough to change their future voting. A user fee on GA is one of those places. That means aviation lobbyists will be busy.
Another major financial issue must be faced early in the year. The federal government’s debt ceiling must be raised by about the middle of February. If not, the government must curtail spending. How this is settled will affect government funding and sources of revenue.
Expanding the medical certificate program that exempts sport pilots to include no medical required for non-commercial private pilots could move forward. But don’t hold your breath — FAA action is like watching a race between two turtles.
The National Transportation Safety Board will continue recommending actions for the FAA to take regarding general aviation as GA is one of the board’s 10 top areas of safety interests. Since 1967, when the NTSB was established, 39% of all its recommendations have been about aviation.
In the non-government realm, look for more efforts to reduce the costs of flying. Aviation associations will increase programs to help local operators or groups of pilots form flying clubs where one airplane will serve the needs of several. Also, look for stronger efforts by the general aviation industry to attract more people to pilot training.
Look for closer cooperation between general aviation associations and groups to continue. Mutual problems bring mutual actions.
And, look for busy and confusing times in Washington.