HNTB Welcomes Passage of FAA Reauthorization

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Congress approves bill that adds stability, but funding falls short of meeting future needs

This week, Congress gave final approval to a four-year reauthorization bill for the Federal Aviation Administration. The following statement is from Ronald Siecke, HNTB Chair Aviation Services:

"The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 provides long-awaited stability in funding for airport maintenance and upkeep. The entire aviation community will be energized by the ability to move forward with large capital plans that have made only stuttering progress during the last five years of temporary funding extensions. The bill also provides much-needed support for NextGen technology and other safety, sustainability and efficiency improvements.

While the funding term – at four full years – provides some level of certainty, the funding level is disappointingly stuck at 2008 rates. The bill also fails to address alternative capital funding mechanisms, falling far short of what’s needed to expand the capacity of airports to handle the resumption of pre-2008 air traffic trends sure to accompany any economic recovery.

Funding supports economic growth
This funding will spur job creation that could significantly affect unemployment rates. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, we gain 34,000 jobs for every $1 billion in transportation infrastructure spending. The $63 billion in spending established by the bill could help add more than a million jobs to our struggling economy, according to Airports Council International-North America.

NextGen moves forward
HNTB applauds congressional leaders for providing firm funding and setting accountability standards for the implementation of NextGen processes and technologies across the nation. NextGen’s satellite-based digital navigation and communication system will give air traffic controllers better tools to pinpoint aircraft locations. More-accurate information will improve safety and allow aircraft to fly closer to one another, boosting capacity. This will reduce delays, carbon emissions, noise pollution and fuel consumption, with eventual projected savings of more than $9 billion a year.

The bill wisely establishes accountable leadership for NextGen implementation, sets deadlines for implementation of required navigation performance flight paths and other processes, establishes budgeting standards and mandates a multiagency, integrated work plan that includes requirements and timelines.

We need a permanent funding mechanism for improving airport facilities
While the recession has affected transportation like most other activities, airline travel overall is expected to increase steadily over the next two decades, nearly doubling the current level. By 2030, the Federal Aviation Administration forecasts that U.S. commercial carriers will fly 1.6 trillion passenger miles, pushing airports far beyond their current capacity. Yet the funding levels and systems in this authorization are inadequate to address the infrastructure improvements necessary to meet that demand. The United States needs a permanent funding mechanism for ongoing incremental improvements and expansions, and we need it now.

One mechanism that could fairly and efficiently support capital improvements necessary to hold back the soon-to-increase strain on facilities is the Passenger Facility Charge. This fee currently funds about one-third of airport projects designed to enhance safety, security and capacity; reduce noise; and increase air carrier competition. It was established in 1990 and capped in 2000 at $4.50 per enplanement (less than $2.50 in today’s dollars). While various aviation industry groups urged legislators to increase the cap or allow a market-based system, the bill has left the cap at its 2000 level.

HNTB hoped Congress would have approved a six-airport pilot program to test the effectiveness of market-based PFCs, which was included in an earlier Senate version. The final bill does, however, require the General Accounting Office to study alternative means of collecting PFCs during the next year, specifically transferring the process from the airlines to the airports. Several larger airports are willing to give up all FAA funding in exchange for unlimited PFC capability – an opportunity to directly align an even greater percentage of funding with the customers who derive the most benefit.”

HNTB Corporation is an employee-owned infrastructure firm serving public and private owners and contractors. With nearly a century of service, HNTB understands the life cycle of infrastructure and solves clients’ most complex technical, financial and operational challenges. Professionals nationwide deliver a full range of infrastructure-related services, including award-winning planning, design, program delivery and construction management. For more information, visit http://www.hntb.com.

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Brian Cox
HNTB Corporation
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