FAA Requests 32 Percent More Money For 2011

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FAA chief Randy Babbitt was in Washington Thursday to explain why the FAA wants $1.14 billion for fiscal 2011. The administrator defended the request to the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development subcommittee, explaining that the move to NextGen involves a "complex series of programs" and inter-related initiatives. If granted, the funding would be a 32-percent increase from fiscal 2010, and only part of the $20 billion that full NextGen implementation is expected to require. The NextGen project is already behind schedule and Committee Chairman John Olver, D-Mass., suggested some of the blame rests with leadership. "Early implementation efforts have been hampered by unclear roles," he said, asking if that had yet been addressed. But there will be other future complications, not the least of which involves how aircraft will come to be equipped and who will pay for it.

In Salt Lake City, where the technology is currently operating, the system was recently taken offline to correct software and interface problems. Aside from infrastructure funding, the matter of equipping aircraft, how that might be regulated and who will bear the costs remains unclear. Babbitt told the committee Thursday that, "the more aircraft are equipped, our entire system runs better." He added that upgrading those aircraft would cost billions, but did not include a per-aircraft figure. The House voted Wednesday to extend FAA funding until early July. As of Thursday, the Senate had yet to follow. Babbitt has made clear that passage of a multiyear reauthorization would help clarify the agency's priorities and long-term planning. The FAA has been working with short-term reauthorization "extensions" since 2007.