This week, the Eno Transportation Foundation held an event at the Bipartisan Policy Center to release their report titled “NextGen: Aligning Costs, Benefits and Political Leadership”. The event was attended by many representatives of the aviation industry, as well as a number of former Department of Transportation Secretaries and FAA Administrators, all of whom expressed their support for expediting NextGen implementation.
The Eno report discusses NextGen benefits, including those to commercial aviation and general aviation. It quantifies potential fuel savings, delay costs saving, and safety benefits. The report also discusses the costs associated with NextGen implementation, including infrastructure costs such as those costs associated with installing ADS-B, communications equipment, and computer systems associated with En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM). In addition to the infrastructure costs, the report details equipage costs for both commercial and general aviation and explains that if commercial and general aviation fleets do not equip their aircraft then the real benefits to NextGen will not be realized.
Finally, the report details the funding issues with NextGen and describes some potential options for both lawmakers and industry stakeholders to consider. The report notes that NextGen is currently funded out of the airport and airway trust fund (AATF). As airports know very well, the AATF has had to rely on larger contributions from the general fund in recent years than ever before, and while the current FAA Reauthorization bill has authorized NextGen funding at $2.7 billion for the next four years, NextGen is still subject to annual appropriations which causes instability in trying to move forward with funding NextGen infrastructure. The report points out that there is no funding mechanism that is directly linked to NextGen, and explores several funding options that could be available for NextGen— pointing out that the industry must consider whether these options are politically feasible— and that any revenue source for NextGen must be practical in the current political environment. The report explores the potential for NextGen to be funded by: applying the ticket tax to baggage fees; increasing the jet fuel tax; increasing the ticket tax; a separate NextGen user fee; funding NextGen through general tax funds; and privatization of air traffic control.
A panel of representatives from various government and aviation stakeholders discussed the report’s findings as well as how the political landscape impacts NextGen funding and implementation. The panel agreed that there needs to be a focus on how the entire system is funded and how the benefits of the system should be tied to the costs of the system.
As the panel discussion was winding down, former DOT Secretary Norm Mineta, who was there listening to the discussion, stood up and expressed his frustration with the current political leadership. He stated that he believes there is no real political leadership on transportation issues. He went on to say that “transportation has become a ho-hum subject” and that our politicians need to see that “other countries are not taking their foot off the pedal when it comes to infrastructure investment”. He expressed his concern over the fact that the American public no longer understands the difference between spending for investment and spending for consumption. He concluded by urging the aviation and transportation stakeholders to educate their Congressional delegations and their communities about the importance of investing in America’s infrastructure. Secretary Mineta’s comments are especially fitting for the airport industry as we embark on our new financial policy campaign and grassroots campaign which began with an airport economic impact study and roll out of the website airportsforthefuture.org.