What’s the best way to manage the world’s busiest, safest and ever-growing aviation system? Here’s a hint: playing chicken with the funding clock isn’t the answer.
Today is National Aviation Day, which is a good day to celebrate the incredible accomplishments of U.S. aviation. It is also a perfect opportunity to remind politicians in Washington that on the last day of September, funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will run dry. That means once back in session, lawmakers will have 19 days to avoid a lapse in funding that would devastate our aviation system. What we really need is bipartisan, multi-year legislation that expands and modernizes our air traffic control system and aviation infrastructure.
We know from painful experience that without a multi-year bill, the FAA will be faced with more patchwork extensions — something lawmakers vowed they would never let happen again after the last fiasco. It took 23 short-term funding extensions over the course of three years and a partial shutdown of the FAA before Congress was able to produce the 2012 FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act.
That shutdown cost the federal government nearly $30 million a day and created a cascading disaster for air travelers, the aviation industry and FAA employees. Remember forced furloughs, rampant flight delays and dangerous maintenance and repair backlogs? I get a migraine just thinking about it.
Sadly, adequate funding for the FAA is about more than just avoiding headaches. The political brinksmanship approach to authorizing and funding our FAA does long-term damage to the safety and efficiency of our national aviation network, threatens middle class jobs and hurts our international competitiveness. It has also stunted workforce development and left the FAA with a staffing crisis. Over a third of the agency’s employees are currently eligible for retirement, but there are not nearly enough new hires in training to replace them, and for those who are in the pipeline, it takes between two and five years before they are ready for prime time.
This makes no sense. How can an agency as complex and important as the FAA be expected to plan for the future of air transportation, develop new technologies and train more qualified professionals when its funding is tied to a series of short-term extensions and the harsh realities of sequestration?
Maybe Congress can’t see the writing on the wall, but I can — and so can the 12 million employees who work on the front lines every day to keep U.S. air travel the safest in the world. Note to Congress: Our 21st Century aviation system is running on 20th Century technology, and this situation isn’t sustainable for much longer.
Anemic aviation budgets, stalled spending on maintenance and modernization projects and a resource-starved and under-staffed FAA are hardly reflections of a nation commemorating the wonders of flight.