WASHINGTON, D.C. — FAA reauthorization is up for renewal next September and an indication of upcoming struggles over it was highlighted in a House of Representatives committee hearing in late November.
A major disagreement will be over air traffic control (ATC). The airline industry is urging swift action to implement the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), a satellite-based system to replace the ground stations that requires aircraft owners to equip with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) equipment. Many in general aviation consider the cost too high for the ADS-B equipment and are concerned about its reliability.
Representative Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, cited the success of ATC since its establishment in 1958 in opening the committee hearing. “However,” he says, “the world has changed since 1958 in numerous ways and it is time to take stock of where we are and where we need to be in decades ahead.”
While the FAA has been slowly moving to the satellite-based NextGen, it is fraught with delays and excessive cost overruns. At the hearing, the Inspector General of the Department of Transportation testified that of the 15 major NextGen projects that were ongoing in 2013, eight included acquisition cost increases amounting to $4.8 billion, and eight experienced delays.
But these costs are not restricted to the FAA spending our tax dollars. Those who use NextGen also will have to ante up. FAA officials estimate it will cost all airspace users — commercial and general aviation — $4 billion to equip for ADS-B Out, onboard avionics that broadcast flight information to controllers and other equipped aircraft.
And pilots who fly in the busiest airspace face a mandate from the FAA to have the ADS-B equipment installed by Jan. 1, 2020.
Mark Baker, president and CEO of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), said the ADS-B mandate is “too expensive and threatens to ground or limit the use of general aviation aircraft.”
He noted that more than 81,000 of the 188,000 certified piston-powered aircraft on the FAA registry are worth $40,000 or less, and these aircraft have a weighted average value of $25,800. The minimum cost of $5,000 to install the required ADS-B Out equipment is beyond the reach of many aircraft owners, he told the committee.
For the first five years of controlled flight, all flying was what is now called general aviation. But general aviation today is facing a challenging environment that threatens to seriously compromise its economic contributions and long-term viability, Baker continued. Over the past decade, the private pilot population has declined at a rate of more than 6,000 pilots per year. The number of new single-engine piston-powered aircraft being produced in the United States has fallen from 14,398 in 1978 to just 674 in 2013, he added.
Baker said that what is needed is an FAA that can keep pace with and enable the cost-effective and streamlined adoption of new technology, such as electronic flight displays, digital autopilots, and advanced engine monitoring to enhance safety and keep GA competitive.
“The regulatory and certification processes used today may have been needed 30 or 40 years ago, but they simply cannot keep pace with today’s rapid changes and improvements in technology,” Baker told the committee. “Changing these processes in ways that lower costs, reduce bureaucracy and improve safety will help grow general aviation. These should be our collective goals.”
More committee meetings will be held over the upcoming months to develop the reauthorization bill, which funds all FAA programs.