WASHINGTON – Just six days before yet another deadline for Congress to act to keep the government funded and open, National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert told the Senate Aviation and Space Subcommittee today that although the United States has the safest, most efficient, and most complex system in the world, the absence of a stable, predictable funding stream is a serious challenge.
“That is why,” Gilbert said, “we and most, if not all, of the aviation community, support S. 762, the Aviation Funding Stability Act of 2019.” The legislation, which is identical to the version in the U.S. House of Representatives, H.R. 1108, would authorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to draw from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund ensuring the FAA can carry out its critical mission in the event of another government shutdown.
“The more than a decade of stop-and-go funding has negatively affected all aspects of the National Airspace System (NAS),” Gilbert said during her opening remarks at a hearing entitled, “Improving Air Traffic Control for the American People: Examining the Current System.”
Unstable funding, she continued, “undermines air traffic control services, staffing, long-term modernization projects, preventative maintenance, and ongoing modernization to the physical infrastructure. It also slows the hiring and training process, which exacerbate the current controller staffing predicament, while preventing the timely implementation of NextGen modernization projects and the integration of new users into the NAS, including private sector innovation such as unmanned aircraft systems, commercial space operations, and supersonic aircraft. Without funding certainty, the FAA will be hard-pressed to maintain current capacity, let alone modernize the system and expand it for new users.”
NATCA is encouraged by the enactment of a two-year budget deal, Gilbert said. However, she added, “we strongly urge Congress and the Administration to avoid another dangerous and costly shutdown of the FAA next week by passing a funding bill. We cannot afford to suffer another government shutdown.”
Even today, the FAA and NATCA are working to reverse the harm caused by the shutdown earlier this year, when all FAA modernization work and new user integration ceased, Gilbert testified. The shutdown caused significant delays to these projects, wasting critical resources and federal taxpayer money. Also, the FAA has begun the process of addressing its aging infrastructure through a combination of realignments, sustaining and maintaining some facilities, and replacing a handful of others. However, that process is slow and has also been hampered by the stop-and-go funding.
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The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) is a labor union and aviation safety organization in the United States that represents nearly 20,000 highly skilled air traffic controllers, engineers, and other aviation safety-related professionals. NATCA was certified in 1987 by the Federal Labor Relations Authority to be the exclusive bargaining representative for air traffic controllers employed by the Federal Aviation Administration. Today, NATCA is one of the strongest labor unions in the federal sector and represents a range of aviation safety professionals in 15 FAA bargaining units, five Department of Defense air traffic facilities, and 102 federal contract towers. These air traffic controllers and other aviation safety professionals make vital contributions to the U.S. economy and make modern life possible by coordinating the safe, orderly, and expeditious movement of nearly one billion aviation passengers and millions of tons of freight within the National Airspace System each year. NATCA is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and is affiliated with the AFL-CIO.