Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Obama Budget Includes $965 Million for NextGen

By Taylor Michie / Published February 4, 2015

An example of how NextGen is the solution to arrival and departure delays throughout the Houston Metroplex. Image: Courtesy of FAA

An example of how NextGen is the solution to arrival and departure delays throughout the Houston Metroplex. Image: Courtesy of FAA

The Obama Administration’s fiscal year 2016 budget includes $95 billion in transportation-related funding, covering aviation-focused infrastructure improvements and  transportation reforms, among other items. 

The budget’s most notable aerospace allocation is a proposed $956 million investment in the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), which is replacing the current ground-based radar system with a satellite-based infrastructure. 

NextGen equipment and systems are being progressively installed, with project completion estimated for 2025. A Department of Transportation brief calls the funds allocation a “coordinated and targeted approach to deploying readily-available NextGen capabilities, while balancing investments … to maintain currently-operational, aging equipment.”

Additional changes are also coming to the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) program, a fee charged by per boarded passenger. The funds generated by PFCs allow publicly controlled airports to complete FAA-approved infrastructure projects that enhance safety, security, or capacity, reduce noise or increase air carrier competition. The president’s budget calls for updating the PFC to up to $8.00 per enplanement, up from the current $4.50. Furthermore, the program change allows larger airports to increase non-federal PFCs, enabling increased revenue generation.

The extension of Runway 27R at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport was funded partially with PFCs. Image: Courtesy of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport

The extension of Runway 27R at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport was funded partially with PFCs. Image: Courtesy of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport

“Giving airports the flexibility and local control they need to implement a PFC level appropriate for their community’s needs is an important first step in spurring competition in the airline industry and in helping our nation’s airports remain competitive with the rest of the world,” said Airports Council International-North America President and CEO Kevin Burke in an emailed statement.

Airline trade organization Airlines for America (A4A) was less enthusiastic about the “dramatic [PFC] hike,” calling the fee increase unnecessary. “Airlines drive the economy and create jobs. With our nascent economic recovery, we should be doing everything we can to bolster those industries that enable commerce, like airlines, rather than adding unnecessary burden to airline customers who are already paying their fair share,” said A4A President and CEO Nicholas Calio in a statement.

It is worth noting that similar PFC increase proposals in past years failed to pass muster in Congressional reviews. “It’s our responsibility to explain to Congress about how PFC funds from passengers go back to airports, not the [aviation] trust fund. There is no federal money in PFCs,” said Burke in a previous interview with AirwaysNews. “Funds are based on how many peope fly on the airlines. The money is used to modernize and build structures to fit in a 21st century system.”

EXTRA: Airline, Airport Groups Prepare for FAA Reauthorization Bill Battle

At the same time, the FY2016 budget calls for $2.9 billion in targeted airports spending spending through the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), eliminating guaranteed funding for large hub airports, and refocusing spending on “smaller commercial and general aviation airports that do not have access to additional revenue or other outside sources of capital.”

“We are disappointed that while this proposal modernizes the PFC, it appears to do so at the expense of AIP,” continued Burke.  “A significant cut like this in AIP funding ultimately hurts medium- and small-sized airports that depend the most on this grant funding for necessary capital improvement projects,” he said. 

Further budget measures include a requested $21.3 million to enable the hiring of aviation safety inspectors, and a $1.3 billion total allocation for the FAA’s Aviation Safety Oversight Office.

Cover Photo: AirwaysNews

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Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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