Senate Democrats

Senators: Slashing FAA Budget To 2008 Levels Will Prevent Upgrade Of Nation’s Decades-Old Air Transportation System, Adding Estimated 200,000 Flights Delays A Year

Proposed Amendment To FAA Reauthorization Bill Would Dramatically Cut Funding of FAA And Prevent Implementation of NextGen Air Traffic Control System

Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Charles Schumer (D-NY),  Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) today released a letter to Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expressing their opposition to his attempt to slash the budget of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fiscal year 2008 levels.  The Senators said that, should the drastic cut be adopted, the FAA would not be able to implement the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) that would upgrade the nation’s decades-old aviation control system.  The FAA has estimated that NextGen’s implementation would cut the number of commercial flight delays nationwide by approximately 21%, or 200,000 delays, based on 2009 levels.  With delays costing passengers $16.7 billion in 2007, cutting delays and modernizing our air traffic control system is essential to our economic recovery.

Senator Paul has introduced an amendment to the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act, currently on the Senate floor, that would cut the budget of the FAA to 2008 levels, leading to widespread layoffs and cancellation of improvement and safety-related projects across the country.  The implementation of NextGen would be either severely delayed or cancelled altogether, preventing the elimination of an estimated 200,000 flight delays a year based, on 2009 levels.

In the letter the Senators wrote: “According to the FAA, the NextGen system will reduce total flight delays by about 21 percent while providing $22 billion in cumulative benefits to the traveling public, aircraft operators and the FAA. Because this amendment would effectively halt the implementation of NextGen, delays will only worsen, creating a tremendous burden on our recovering economy.”

According to the FAA, NextGen is an umbrella term for the ongoing, wide-ranging transformation of the National Airspace System (NAS). At its most basic level, NextGen represents an evolution from a ground-based system of air traffic control to a satellite-based system of air traffic management. This evolution is vital to meeting future demand, and to avoiding gridlock in the sky and at our nation’s airports. When fully implemented, NextGen will allow more aircraft to safely fly closer together on more direct routes, reducing delays and providing unprecedented benefits for the environment and the economy through reductions in carbon emissions, fuel consumption and noise.

The Senators said that flight delays are a major economic drag on the nation’s economy, and reducing them should be a priority.  According to the National Center of Excellence for Aviation Operations Research (NEXTOR), the total cost of all US air transportation delays in 2007 was $32.9 billion, including $16.7 billion cost to passengers.

The implementation of NextGen would have a major effect on the nation’s biggest and most delayed airports.  In 2009 there were 1,084,290 flights that took off 15 minutes or more late– a 21% reduction would mean 227,700 fewer delays.  Based on the 2009 flight data and a 21% reduction in delays:

•               Chicago O’Hare International Airport could see 12,967 fewer delayed flights once NextGen is implemented.

•               Los Angeles International Airport could see 5,810 fewer delayed flights once NextGen is implemented.

•               Baltimore/Washington International Airport could see 4,146 fewer delayed flights once NextGen is implemented.

•               Newark Liberty International Airport could see 5,860 fewer delayed flights once NextGen is implemented.

•               John F. Kennedy International Airport could see 4,733 fewer delayed flights once NextGen is implemented.

The Senators’ letter is below:

Dear Senators McConnell and Paul:

We are writing to express our opposition to Sen. Paul’s amendment slashing the FAA’s funding to 2008 levels. We share your concerns about our nation’s debt, and are willing to work with you in developing constructive solutions. However we will not accept any amendment that puts the safety of Americans at risk and hinders economic growth.

The amendment proposed by Senator Paul will delay the FAA’s ability to implement its air traffic control modernization system known as NextGen. Without NextGen, the FAA cannot meet key safety, efficiency and environmental goals. Furthermore, should the FAA be forced to operate at a reduced level, it will be required to layoff hundreds of safety and maintenance workers. Such a move would put the flying public at risk. In 2010, there were 988 separate runway incursions, airport incidents that adversely affect runway safety. Thus far in 2011 there have been 66. These numbers are unacceptable and without the NextGen system and personnel to investigate these incidents, incursions will rise.

Anyone who has spent time flying in the United States understands the impact of delays. Last year, one out of every five flights in the United States was delayed. One recent study estimated the cost of these delays, to passengers, to be over $16 billion. According to the FAA, the NextGen system will reduce total flight delays by about 21 percent while providing $22 billion in cumulative benefits to the traveling public, aircraft operators and the FAA. Because this amendment would effectively halt the implementation of NextGen, delays will only worsen, creating a tremendous burden on our recovering economy.

America must have a strong, safe, aviation industry to keep our economy growing. Scoring political points at the expense of our nation’s economy and the flying public’s safety is irresponsible. We look forward to receiving your response.

Sincerely,

Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)

Richard Durbin (D-IL)

Charles Schumer (D-NY)

Diane Feinstein (D-CA)

Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD)

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