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Sat, Apr 30, 2005

NATCA Study Purports To Unravel Air Traffic Control Funding Myths

Report May Come In Handy On Capitol Hill Next Week

With Congress set to examine Federal Aviation Administration financing and the Aviation Trust Fund next week, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association says its report on the fund provides a fact-based framework for policy discussions on financing and explains why current budget proposals represent a major shift in government priorities.

As ANN reported earlier this month, the NATCA report concludes that the Aviation Trust isn't as bad shape as the Bush administration would have pilots and airport operators believe. NATCA contends the trust will remain solvent -- as long as the FAA doesn't change the ratio of operational to capital expenses in trust outlays.

"Our nation's aviation system benefits the entire country, not just the people who fly," said NATCA Executive Vice President Ruth Marlin, who authored the report, entitled, "Understanding Air Traffic Control Financing." "It is an economic engine that drives more than $900 billion in Gross Domestic Product every year. As you wake up and listen to the traffic report, open your mail, order products online or put flowers in a vase, aviation touches our lives, even if we never board an airplane."

However, the President's 2006 budget for the FAA charts a future that even his own FAA administrator warns could lead to service cuts, reduced inspections and delays in equipment modernization. Regrettably, this "crisis" grows out of a conscious policy decision by the administration to cut the amount of public financing for our nation's air traffic control system in half and dramatically increase the money drawn from the Trust Fund to pay for the FAA's daily operations.

Marlin's report shows that, according to FAA figures, the revenue from aviation specific taxes into the Trust Fund generated by the growing levels of air traffic is increasing and the FAA's own projections forecast a steep growth in Trust Fund income for the foreseeable future. But some public officials are proposing a radical change in how the FAA is funded.

"The Trust Fund has run decades of surpluses. This buffer allowed us to weather the post Sept. 11 storm until traffic rebounded as it has," Marlin stated. "This success has led some policy makers to look to the Trust Fund as a way to shift the burden of public funding for aviation away from the general treasury."

Marlin's report examines the major structures in place for providing air traffic services in North America, Europe and Australia. She asserts that in order to ensure that a national economy is able to maximize the benefits provided by a vigorous aviation industry, a reliable and robust air traffic control system is necessary as it is a critical component of the infrastructure. As air traffic control modernization in particular requires long term planning, a stable and predictable funding mechanism is required.

Reducing the contribution made by the public through the federal government's general fund, Marlin argues, "will degrade the system, reduce its efficiency and could compromise safety."



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