WASHINGTON – In testimony before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee today, NATCA President Paul Rinaldi said that the lack of stable or predictable funding for the National Airspace System (NAS) is unacceptable and change is needed in order to maintain and advance the system’s safety and efficiency. Rinaldi delivered his remarks during a hearing about the upcoming Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization process, focusing on efforts to modernize the air traffic control system and options for reform of the system.
Rinaldi’s testimony outlined existing problems at the FAA including negative impacts on the NAS as a result of repeated interruptions to the funding stream. He said NATCA believes the upcoming FAA Reauthorization bill must deal with funding issues to ensure a safety-focused operational system that serves the nation’s transportation and economic needs every hour of every day.
In his testimony, Rinaldi made clear NATCA opposes any overhaul that creates a private, for-profit entity to oversee air traffic control services. “We understand that addressing the funding problems may lead to an examination of potential structural changes for the FAA,” said Rinaldi. “But we implore this committee not to limit its focus. Any change that fails to guarantee a stable, predictable funding stream could create new unintended consequences without solving the true dilemma.”
He continued, “Details matter in this process. Our goal is to maintain and improve upon our high standard. However fundamental change is needed to do so. The current problems cannot continue.”
Rinaldi said that NATCA looks forward to working with Congress and other stakeholders to determine a solution that provides a stable and predictable funding stream while protecting the air traffic control system and its future growth.
He laid out the principles NATCA requires for any reform:
- Safety and efficiency must remain the top priorities;
- Stable, predictable funding must adequately support air traffic control services, staffing, hiring and training, long-term modernization projects, preventative maintenance, and ongoing modernization to the physical infrastructure;
- Robust and continued growth of the aviation system is ensured; and
- A dynamic aviation system continues to provide services to all segments of the aviation community, from commercial passenger carriers and cargo haulers, to business jets, to general aviation, from the major airports to those in rural America.
Rinaldi also provided committee members with an overview of alternative funding and structural models that stakeholders, think tanks and others have been exploring. He provided key points on the potential structural models that have been discussed for the FAA and the effects these changes would have on air traffic control. He also provided findings from stakeholder examinations on how other Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) are structured, and how well they deliver air traffic control services.
Rinaldi emphasized that NATCA cannot endorse a particular system without knowing all of the details and ensuring a seamless transition.
Read Rinaldi’s complete testimony.
Other highlights from Rinaldi’s testimony include:
“For years the FAA has been faced with an unstable, unpredictable funding stream, and each interruption has negatively affected all aspects of the FAA. The FAA has had to spread its resources thinly between fully staffing its 24/7 operation, modernizing the airspace, and performing the daily maintenance required to sustain an aging infrastructure. When sequestration cuts were implemented, the situation became even more dire. The FAA was forced to furlough its employees, including air traffic controllers, place preventative maintenance on hold, and consider closing Federal and Contract towers which would have curtailed air traffic services at smaller markets. The cuts also prevented the FAA from hiring new trainees to replace the certified controllers who retired, adding stress to an already understaffed workforce. Sequestration cuts did not affect the FAA’s budget for fiscal years (FY) 2014 and 2015, but the cuts will return in FY 2016.”
“While there may be benefits to the Canadian model, NATCA is uncertain if that model is scalable to the size, complexity, and diversity of our airspace. For example, the U.S. controls 132 million flights annually (2012), compared to 12 million in Canada in an area a fraction of the size of our NAS. The U.S. has 21 centers, compared to seven in Canada, and 315 towers compared to 42. According to Airport Council International’s Top 30 Busiest Airports in the world (based on aircraft movements), the U.S. currently has 8 of the top 10 busiest airports in the world, and 15 in the top 30. Canada has one: Toronto, which comes in at number 18.”
“While considering possible reforms, we must protect and strengthen this national asset; our National Airspace System is a treasure. We must continue to create an environment that encourages the growth of the aviation sector, allowing the integration of new users, new innovation, and new technology, while continuing to maintain our global leadership. There is much at stake. We must find the path that improves the system without causing unintended consequences that set us back. The U.S. has always led the world in aviation, and we must continue to do so.”