INTERVIEW. The National Civil Aviation Review Commission (NCARC) was established by Congress in 1996 as part of the FAA reauthorizing legislation passed in 1996. The Commission's responsibilities are to "study safety, airport capital needs and ways to meet those needs, and FAA operational needs and ways to meet those needs." In essence, the NCARC's job is to recommend to Congress how the funding needs of the FAA, aviation safety and the nation's airports should be met in the future. There is enormous controversy about whether "the system" should be funded by "user fees" (which the Clinton Administration is pushing aggressively) or whether it should continue to be funded through excise taxes on aviation fuel, air freight and airline tickets (strongly favored by business and private aviation groups). NCARC's top staffer David Traynham responds to questions about the composition and game-plan of the Commission in this exclusive one-on-one interview by AVweb's man-on-the-hill Joseph E. (Jeb) Burnside.
May 26, 1997
|How to Contact NCARC ...
National Civil Aviation Review Commission
Building, Room 8332
400 7th Street, SW
Members of the Commission
Charles M. Barclay
American Association of Airport
Mayor of Atlanta
Robert A. Davis
Corporate Vice President, Engineering and
The Boeing Company
Sylvia A. de Leon
Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld
Robert H. Frenzel
United Parcel Service
Mary Kay Hanke
International Vice President
Richard B. Hirst
Senior Vice President, Corporate Affairs
Northwest Airlines, Inc.
Stephen H. Kaplan
Cutler & Stanfield, L.L.P.
Michael L. Lexton
Frederick D. McClure
Senior Vice President
Norman Y. Mineta
Senior Vice President and Managing Director
Lockheed Martin IMS
Transportation Systems and Services
Carol O' Cleireacain
The Brookings Institution
Revius O. Ortique, Jr.
Retired, Supreme Court Justice, State of
Airport Board Chairman
New Orleans Airport
Rapid City Regional Airport
Director of Engineering and Air Safety
Pilots Association, International
Leonard L. Griggs, Jr.
Lambert-St. Louis International
D. Scott Yohe
Vice President, Government Affairs
Day and Zimmerman Infrastructure
The Honorable Larry Pressler
Pressler Group, LLC
Richard B. Smith
Golden Triangle Regional
AVweb: David, first of all, thank you
for taking some time to talk with AVweb. I don't have to tell
you that there was a lot of initial concern about the
composition of the Commission. There are those who feel that
general aviation was omitted and that perhaps other segments
of the aviation industry were omitted in the naming of the
Commission. How would you respond to that?
Traynham: It is clear that a number of general aviation
trade groups are upset with the composition of the Commission
not so much with the people who are on it but with people who are
not on it. We do have a woman from a fixed-based operation in
South Dakota, Linda Barker, who views herself as coming from the
general aviation industry. I don't think the Aircraft Owners and
Pilots Association, the General Aviation Manufacturers
Association or the National Air Transport Association while
they are happy she's on there, she does not come with broad
political support from the general aviation community, like
someone would coming from a trade association.
I have met more with the representatives from the general
aviation community since the Commission was up and running than I
have with the Commissioners and I will continue to do that. My
view is that although they are not formally named on the
Commission or part of the Commission, if we are to develop a
consensus on how to finance the aviation programs of the country
in the future, they have to be part of that consensus. They may
not be part of the Commission but they need to be part of the
consensus. So, I'm talking with their representatives, I know
them all, I consider them friends, and I will continue talking
AVweb: Your background is obviously
Congressional in nature. You have been involved in aviation
policy issues for some time. Tell me when you first went to
Traynham: It was in the summer of 1979, I went to the
House Aviation Subcommittee, which is where I've been virtually
the whole time since, except for about nine months on the Coast
Guard Subcommittee in 1995.
AVweb: So, you know the players, you
know the people. How much of a hand did you have in writing
the actual statute that developed the NCARC?
Traynham: Well, I was involved in the House-Senate
conference that agreed to it. The actual language that sets up
the Commission was largely a product of the Senate, on the
financing side. The House had a provision which dealt with safety
issues and those were merged in conference. But the part that set
up the Commission was largely a product that came from Senator
[John] McCain [(R-AZ)] and Senator [Wendell] Ford [(D-KY)].
AVweb: In that statute, there are a
number of specific timelines for various work product and
recommendations to Congress. What are your intentions on
meeting those deadlines?
Traynham: We will meet those deadlines. The final
report on financing has to be to Congress by September 28,
according to the statute, based on when the [Coopers and Lybrand]
independent financial assessment was completed. [Former
Representative] Norm Mineta, who chairs the Commission, wants to
have the Commission's financing recommendations folded into the
[Congressional budget] reconciliation bill that will be developed
this summer. In order to accomplish that, I think we will pretty
much have to submit a report on the financing piece by Labor Day
during August. So, that's the deadline we're operating under.
If you back up the timeframe of when DOT will have the
opportunity to review the report on the financing piece, I think
the Commission needs to pretty well come to some decisions by
The safety piece, there's a statutory deadline that we report
by October 7, which is the one-year anniversary of when the law
setting up the Commission was enacted. We're doing the financing
piece and the safety piece in sequence. We will be doing the
financing work first, and that will continue through August. Then
we will start running parallel on the safety issues around July
AVweb: Going back to the Commission's
composition for a moment, and forgetting the general aviation
community's questions and protests, there are those who have
commented that the Commission is almost exclusively composed
of airline and airport people. In fact, some of the
Commissioners supposedly are lobbyists for airline and
airport interests. Obviously, that raises some questions of
whether or not the Commission can be truly impartial and
whether or not it can avoid bringing in parochial interests
in support of the other "lives" these people have.
How would you respond to that?
Traynham: The people who have been appointed to the
Commission, to some extent, they were expected to bring their
parochial interests to the table. The Commission's purpose is to
have a negotiation to put some issues to bed to bring closure
to these issues. So, the idea behind the appointments was to have
some people who can speak for Delta Air Lines Scott Yohe,
Senior Vice President for Delta is a Commissioner. So it's not
really designed to be an objective sort of Commission. It's a
Commission that's to negotiate some issues that have vexed
policy-makers for some time to bring a recommendation back. So
it's meant to be a kind of politically-negotiated settlement of
some issues. I don't think we're expecting the representative who
also works for UPS to leave his UPS hat at the door, so to speak.
There are interests that need to work out some compromises with
each other. So, I don't see a problem with having those varied
Now, we do have some people who have non-aviation backgrounds
on the Commission, as well. They bring financing and budgeting
experience, in some cases. So, it's a mixture of people with
different backgrounds. I think that they people who were
selected, even though they may come from a particular company or
trade association or something like that, they are individuals
who do have some ability to build consensus on issues, to work
out compromises and, when need be, they can take a broader view
than their particular interest. I don't think anyone expects them
to argue positions that are contrary to where they came from. I
think what people are looking for is that they will recognize
that, at times, you have to make a compromise to move forward.
The individuals the personalities who were chosen,
certainly have the capability of doing that.
AVweb: The Commission's ultimate
recommendations - will they be consensus-driven or will they
be like a Supreme Court decision where you have a majority
opinion and a minority, dissenting opinion? How will that be
Traynham: We don't know yet. Of course, the hope is
that we will have a broad consensus view of what the
recommendation to the Congress is. Hopefully, we won't have an
eleven-to-ten split on how we should proceed. I don't know
whether we can really expect a totally unanimous [vote] on all
issues. But I think there is a very good chance we will achieve a
broad consensus on what to do here.
AVweb: Is there any mechanism built
into the statute or built into the Commission's rules for
handling any dissention?
Traynham: Well, the Commission will put out a report
and if there has been a vote and there are negative votes on the
report, I presume we would note that and what points of a
recommendation someone was opposed to. I guess if it were
strongly felt that there needed to be an opposing view we would
incorporate a minority report, if there is such a thing. But, I'm
pretty confident we can develop a consensus.
AVweb: Under the statute, the
Commission has two task forces, one on financing the FAA and
the other on aviation safety generally. What is the process
the Commission will use to generate your final reports?
Traynham: Well, we have had two informational briefings
so far we'll have two more at the end of this week - on
various issues associated with financing. The first two dealt a
lot with the budget process of the federal government and some
issues that raises. The meetings we have later this week are
focused on the air traffic control modernization effort, cost
issues associated with that, how do we get more productivity out
of FAA systems and people, and then we'll be having an
afternoon-long discussion of airport capital development needs
and differing approaches to that.
In the first meeting, at which we organized, Norm Mineta, the
Commission chairman, suggested that all members of the Commission
be a member of the financing task force. We haven't set up the
safety task force yet. Most members of the Commission are on it
because they are interested in the financing task force, so we
just thought it would be better to have everybody participate in
that. Whether everyone participates in the safety [task force] or
not I have a feeling some [Commission members] may opt to not
participate in that for various reasons.
We'll have our first public hearing on May 28. We just
announced that and we're trying to get a feel for who wants to
come in and present testimony. If it's a real heavy count, we'll
probably schedule a second day in June or sometime. We haven't
done that yet.
AVweb: Obviously, at your May 28
hearing, you are probably going to be hearing from a lot of
the "alphabet soup" groups here in Washington
the usual suspects as it were. What about John Q. Public?
What avenues, what mechanisms, if any, does he or she have to
present a statement or comment to the Commission?
Traynham: They are certainly not prevented from doing
so. Obviously, there are only so many minutes and hours in the
day, so if we get too many requests to testify than we can
physically accommodate we may have to go to another day. But this
is a general, open-to-the-public sort of hearing. Whether we get
many requests from John Q. Public wanting to come in, we'll just
have to sort that out. But people should contact the Commission
the person on our staff to contact is Margie Tower and
we'll be glad to take written comments from the public and make
them part of the record and available to Commission members.
AVweb: The two task forces
financing and safety there have been many concerns over
the years that certain kinds of user fees on specific
services that the FAA offers could, in fact, impact aviation
safety. How do you intend to balance out those concerns? Do
you anticipate that the safety task force, which will come
later, will look at some of the financing recommendations and
alter them for safety considerations?
Traynham: Well, first of all, we will have people who
are cognizant of what each task force is doing there will be a
lot of overlap so it isn't like the left hand will not know
what the right hand is doing. Obviously there is a meshing of the
two issues in a number of key places. I don't see too much of a
balancing. I think that if the Commission felt that a particular
type of fee or charge would impact safety, I presume we would not
do it. We don't want to have financing mechanisms affecting
AVweb: From your conversations with
your colleagues on Capitol Hill and conversations with
Senators and Congressmen, what kind of
"fast-track," if any, do you think the Commission's
recommendations will be on? Clearly, you are going to make
your recommendations into draft legislation and take them
back up to the Hill on or about Labor Day, leaving one month
or so before the start of the new fiscal year. What do you
think will be the reception that the Commission's work
product will receive?
Traynham: Well, the Commission was set up by Congress
because there was no consensus within the Congress on how to
proceed on financing the FAA or on the various proposals on the
different financing mechanisms floating around. So, the
Commission was set up to try to forge a consensus. I have to
think that given the circumstances of the Commission having been
established there will be some receptivity to the Commission's
recommendations if it is a broad consensus. So, I'm optimistic.
In terms of time frame, if we're going to be in the [federal
budget] reconciliation [bill], it's conceivable that we will need
to have some concepts to [the Hill] even before August. Last
week, there was talk of the whole reconciliation process being on
a fast track. But we'll have to see how that process goes. If we
miss that cycle, I think things will be dealt with in next year's
aviation authorization legislation.
There is a process provided in the [1996 FAA reauthorization]
bill for the Senate to take up [the Commission's recommendations]
on a specific schedule outside the reconciliation process. The
House does not have that process, so there may be some quicker
Senate action in the fall and if that's happening, that might
spur some House action, too.
AVweb: One of the ongoing concerns in
the aviation industry right now is the failure of the
Administration to make a nomination with respect to the FAA
administration. Now clearly, Barry Valentine, the acting
administrator, by all accounts is doing pretty good work.
What, if any, impact does the lack of an administrator or the
lack of long-term leadership at the agency have on the
Traynham: I don't think it has too much of an impact on
the Commission's work. It's been a good while since we've had a
"full-blown" FAA administrator you're right, Barry
Valentine is getting good marks. But a lot of major decisions get
put on hold things kind of coast along without an
administrator in place. One thing to note is that this
administrator the one who will be named shortly will be the
first one operating under a five-year term. Congress put that
into law with hopes that it the position would become more of a
AVweb: Obviously, the name most
frequently and most recently mentioned for that position is
[Acting Federal Highway Administrator] Jane Garvey. She has a
very good reputation among transportation-industry people
here in town. She's a public sector manager by profession,
she's gotten good marks at the Federal Highway
Administration, she is obviously very close to DOT Secretary
Slater, but she has very little aviation experience. She was
director of Boston Logan Airport for several years and
obviously Boston Logan is a major international airport. But
there are so many other segments of the industry that she
would need to address and serve as the FAA administrator. How
would you comment on her abilities to understand the
Commission's work and recognize the value of its
recommendations for what they are?
Traynham: I don't know Jane Garvey I never had the
opportunity to work with her but you're right, she comes with
a very good, strong reputation. I'm told that once she is
formally nominated she would like to meet with the Commission and
we'll certainly set that up. She is aware, I'm told, of what the
Commission is up to and what are the issues we have before us.
She's interested in learning more about that and I anticipate
that at one of our future meetings, she'll be a participant.
AVweb: Going back to the Commission's
work on financing of the agency, over the years one of the
main complaints of user groups and elements of the public has
been the failure of the FAA to adequately manage its air
traffic control modernization, for example. Other complaints
have centered on Congress' failure to appropriate the funds
necessary to move forward on modernization. And, of course,
we get into the entire question of how the budget process
impacts the Airport and Airways Trust Fund. Will the
Congressional budget and appropriations process and the way
that the Airport and Airways Trust Fund fits into the budget
be part of the financing task force's work?
Traynham: Oh, very much so. We've established a work
group within the Commission's staff to examine how we would
improve the budget process for aviation, should aviation revenues
and programs receive some sort of specialized budget treatment
that they don't have today. So, yes, those are key issues for the
Commission's work. They will be making decisions on what to
recommend in that area.
The short-hand way to look at the work of the Commission is
"How can how we finance and budget the nation's aviation
programs in a better way?" That raises issues of whether you
move to a more cost-based fee system, what kind of budget process
treatment do you give it? If you are going to change how much is
charged, you have to know how much to charge. That raises the
question of how much airport development do you expect the federal
government to support? So, I think the Commission is going to
have wrestle that issue. We will have to wrestle with how the
[system's cost] will be borne by the users as opposed to the
general public. Right now, about 65% of the agency's expenses are
supported by the Trust Fund, with the rest supported by the
general fund. Does that Trust Fund or user share go up? That's an
issue that is very key to the Administration.
AVweb: You also have [the Department
of Defense's] share to consider...
Traynham: That's right. We have liaisons to the
Commission from various federal agencies we have someone from
DOD participating in our meetings.
One of the things I've come to think that has to be major part
of the Commission's recommendation is how to get costs to users
of the system down how do we get the FAA's costs down? So, we
have another work group that is cataloging and inventorying a
variety of ways to reduce costs to users. If we develop a new
system of financing, someone or possibly everyone will have
to pay more to support the system. If you are going to ask people
to do that, you have to show them the benefit and that [means]
getting costs to users down. So that's...
AVweb: And/or improving services...
Traynham: Right, if you are going to improve services,
presumably that will have some cost/benefit effect. So that will
be a major feature of the Commission's work, one on which I'm not
sure that Congress was all that focused when it [created the
Commission]. It's going to be a major focus of the Commission.
AVweb: Your work groups are separate
from the task forces?
Traynham: When I say "work groups," that's
how we've organized the staff.
AVweb: Have you organized any specific
Traynham: Well, we have a work group working on the
budget process issues, we have one working on cost-reduction
issues, we have another one working on issues associated with
cost allocations we have cost allocation studies that show the
general aviation sector imposes more costs than it pays in taxes.
Most of the general aviation people with whom I've met recognize
that. They also say at the same time that if the studies indicate
that they are only paying a fifth of their costs, [the resulting]
taxes would be unreasonable, and I think everyone agrees with
Their main concern as I've detected so far is less with how
much they pay obviously there is a point where that does
become a major concern but with the mechanism of payment. They
pay a fuel tax at this point and that is the way they would like
to see that system keep operating. There is no reason that
couldn't happen, if you were to set up a different system for the
airlines go to a more cost-based system for the airlines side
to me there is nothing conceptually wrong, or bad. You could
set that system up and keep a fuel tax system going for general
aviation. There's no reason you couldn't do that. No Commission
member has decided what to do here, so I'm just speculating. You
could come out with a continuation of the fuel taxes on general
AVweb: The range of options the
Commission has in front of it includes the current system of
taxes, but also a per mile fee for all aircraft...
AVweb: ...and the existing taxes could
be increased, altered, could be lumped together on all
operations, so the range of options that the Commission has
in front of it is pretty much wide open, is it not?
Traynham: That's right. Another option would be to keep
some users paying what they're paying now and make adjustments in
other areas, so you're right, it's probably wide open. That's
what Congress wanted for the Commission to examine all
AVweb: How many people do you have on
Traynham: About 15, some of whom are part-time. Three
of us came from Capitol Hill, myself, Donna McLean, [from the
House Aviation Subcommittee] and Mike Reynolds from [the] Senate
Commerce [Committee]. We have a number of detailees from the FAA
and the budget office in the Department of Transportation. We
have a couple of people on loan to us from the Mitre Corporation
and from Coopers & Lybrand, who did the independent financial
assessment, and then we have some administrative and clerical
staff, as well.
AVweb: One of the critiques of the
Coopers study is that it basically only scratched the
surface. Some would respond that that is what is was designed
to do, given the timeframe it was accomplished in and given
that it forms a foundation for the NCARC's work. To what
extent will the Commission be looking at the Coopers report,
critiquing it and taking it apart and putting it back
Traynham: Well, I think the Coopers report said that
the FAA's estimates of its future costs or future budget needs
was a reasonable estimate a $59 billion figure over five
years. But it also said that it is not reasonable to expect for
the users to pay that sort of funding but that it is also
reasonable to expect that that is a baseline from which those
sorts of costs have to be brought down. And they gave some
listings of some specific programs that should be restructured or
They also identified costs that the FAA had not identified
additional costs and it's hard to put numbers on some of
those, but that's part of the report that didn't get as much
attention as the cost savings did. So, it's a very valuable piece
for us. We hired the guy who worked on the study and he'll
continue to work with us on it.
AVweb: We're doing this interview a
year and a day after the ValuJet crash in the Everglades.
Since then there have been a number of other accidents: TWA
800; the Quincy, Illinois, ground collision between a
scheduled commuter carrier and a private turboprop; and the
Comair accident, which was very reminiscent of the American
Eagle ATR crash near Roselawn, Indiana. In recent days, a
number of people have come out of the woodwork to comment
that nothing within the agency has really changed since
ValuJet. The FAA continues to "drag its feet" on
implementing new regulations to enhance safety, for example.
Smoke detectors in cargo compartments and fuel tanks in
Boeing 747s are other examples
It appears to the layman, and even to some who are not
laymen, that the FAA is dragging its feet. And, of course,
there is a lot of talk from people like [former DOT Inspector
General] Mary Schiavo about internal mismanagement at the
FAA. What, if anything, will the Commission be looking at
with respect to FAA operations, FAA management and in FAA
responses to NTSB recommendations?
Traynham: Well, a lot of that will be dealt with in the
safety piece that we'll be looking at later in the summer. I
think everyone, including people at the FAA, would agree that the
regulatory process needs to move quicker when something like this
The main problem is that, under the current way of doing
things, to regulate you need to show a positive benefit-to-cost
ratio and that is sometimes very difficult to do, either because
[a proposed action has no] benefits or because it's just very
hard to calculate them, even if you know what the benefits are.
So, it's a very tough process under which the FAA labors to
generate regulations. I don't look over there and see deliberate
foot-dragging by people the process certainly results in
things not moving as quickly as they should sometimes. So, I
think the thing the public has to recognize is that what to do is
not as clear sometimes. Also, these things are controversial. The
way our government works, whether the FAA, the EPA, the
Securities Exchange Commission if something is controversial
we have an elaborate process by which that is dealt with
published comments, the rulemaking process it's designed to
take a long time.
AVweb: Does the Commission have a
World Wide Web site?
Traynham: We're going to set one up, we haven't done
that yet, put that's coming along pretty soon.
AVweb: Will it include schedules,
timelines, thing like that, and the various documents that
the Commission generates?
AVweb: What about opportunities for
Traynham: Yeah, I think we'd like to do that. We're
trying to get some technical assistance, but we do have a person
on staff who is looking at that, figuring out what we need to do.
AVweb: David, thank you very much.
Traynham: Glad to.