Airspace Gridlock? Will there be room for GA?

In 2002, recognizing the importance of air transportation to the vitality of the US economy, the President appointed a Commission on the Future of the US Aerospace Industry to evaluate the industry and postulate its future. The Commission, in their November 2002 Final Report, concluded that the projected growth in demand for transporting cargo and people by air could not be accommodated by anything less than a transformation of the National Air Space System. As a result, Congress mandated that one of the conditions for funding the FAA’s current annual budget was the formation of the Joint Planning and Development office within the FAA. The JPDO with staff from FAA, NASA, DOD, DOC, DHS and the Office of the President, is charged with bringing to Congress by the end of 2004, an integrated plan to transform the U.S. Air Transportation system to meet our civil aviation, national defense and homeland security needs through the year 2025.

The JPDO Futures Working Group through a series of scenario-based workshops involving government, industry and academia stakeholders formulated a set of eleven robust strategies to bring about a transformation of the National Airspace System. These strategies, if implemented lay the groundwork for meeting the goals set forth by the Secretary of Transportation including expanded system flexibility and capacity to accommodate future demand while maintaining national defense, aviation safety, environmental stewardship, etc.

A draft of these strategies was recently shared with the participating Government agencies and as a result of their combined input the revised strategies that are scheduled for presentation to Congress have been substantially altered. When comparing the JPDO original strategies with the Next Generation Air Transportation Integrated Plan which will be shared with Congress, it is evident that the eight strategies as described in the Next Generation Transportation System Integrated Plan represent a significant dilution of the original JPDO strategies, the net effect of which places the success of this enterprise in serious jeopardy.

Absent from the NGATS plan are several strategies which the majority of workshop participants deemed absolutely vital to transformation. First and foremost among these was the unwavering consensus for the establishment of a single national authority and budget for the design and deployment of integrated solutions in the air and space transportation system. This would yield optimal system-wide planning and decision making with greater efficiency, security and intermodal connectivity. It is envisioned that this would be an enduring cross-government commission of stakeholders, which would coordinate the roles, responsibilities, policies, procedures, and budgets of multiple organizations and jurisdictions.

Without this single authority with budget allocated for transformation implementation, there is great risk that the ebb and flow of administrations and priorities in Washington would at the best postpone and at worst sabotage the enterprise which the President, Congress and key stakeholders have all agreed must take place.

The implications for General Aviation in California and across the country are easy to project. As scheduled air carrier activity grows, GA will be forced out of the system. I strongly encourage the members of the California Pilots Association to contact their congressional representatives. To protect General Aviation, we need the full set of eleven strategies with emphasis on the preservation of VFR flight, an avoidance of user fees and assurance that the nation?s 5,400+ airports not only remain open, but also be expanded and protected to help accommodate future demand. Only by raising awareness among our elected officials urging them to hold the Secretary of Transportation to his original mandate will GA be secure in its future. We need to bring back the broader plan or become victims of our inaction.

Respectfully Yours,

Barry Jay

Editor?s Note: Barry is the past President of the Torrance Airport Assn., and currently on the Board of Directors.