The Senate began work on reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration with a hearing by the aviation subcommittee that signaled a push to speed operation of the NextGen air traffic control system, another battle over user fees, and greater FAA financing from the general fund.
James May, president and CEO of the Air Transport Association, told the lawmakers that NextGen can be up and running in “three to five years instead of three to five decades.” He urged the Senators to include in the reauthorization bill less dependence on the aviation trust fund to pay for NextGen and to provide more from the general fund because air traffic benefits the entire nation. May continued to claim that the airlines pay an unfair amount into the trust fund and said ATA continues to endorse charging user groups to reflect each group’s use of the system. He fell short, however, of specifically calling for user fees. He commented that “only so many battles can be taken on.”
NextGen also got a strong boost from Ed Bolen, president and CEO of the National Business Aircraft Association. He said NBAA supports faster development of NextGen despite the fact that business aviation is suffering “worse that it has since the great depression.”
Questions and comments from several senators on the panel seemed to indicate a better understanding of general aviation. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) said general aviation is important in the state. Sen. Mark Begich spoke to Bolen about the importance of GA in Alaska, where law requires that firearms be carried in every general aviation airplane.
For nearly two years the Senate and the House have been unable to get together on FAA reauthorization. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), ranking member on the full Committee, said she hopes the two bodies can get together this time around.