FAA's Blakey Backpedaling?
It appears that FAA Administrator Marion Blakey is backing off on her claim that "one hundred percent of our major capital programs are on schedule and on budget," a statement she delivered in testimony to the House appropriations subcommittee on March 22. During a speech last Thursday at the Pratt & Whitney Women's Leadership Forum, Blakey watered this statement down to "90 percent of our major capital projects" being on time and on budget. In her carefully crafted speech last week she also said, "Let me tell you this: under our proposal, the majority of general aviation will never pay a user fee for air traffic control." The key word here is "majority," which might be a misnomer since AOPA has discovered that the FAA's proposal would impose user fees for general aviation aircraft flying in Class B airspace. While pilots could fly around this airspace to avoid such fees, it would add inconvenience and extra flying time, possibly resulting in additional operating expenses that could make the user-fee option more cost-effective.
Meanwhile, Blakey continues to link ATC modernization with the proposed funding plan, even though the Government Accountability Office has previously debunked this relationship. In testimony before the House aviation subcommittee late last month, GAO Physical Infrastructure Director Gerald Dillingham said, "The current funding structure has supported FAA as FAA's budget has grown, and it can continue to do so to fund planned modernization." Despite this Blakey last Thursday maintained that "a stable revenue stream [i.e., user fees] is the only thing that'll fix [the aviation system] and the only thing that will enable us to make the kind of investments we need to." Perhaps acknowledging the growing opposition in Congress for the FAA's funding overhaul plan, last week she promised to "push hard to reach a compromise." However, even a compromised bill on FAA reauthorization could include $1 billion in tax increases per year "at a minimum," according to House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Republican chief of staff Jim Coon.