Air Transport World

No fresh start seen for Airport & Airways Trust Fund.

No fresh start seen for Airport & Airways Trust Fund

Expiration this year of the Airport & Airways Trust Fund program presents one of those rare opportunities for a fresh start. In this case the new beginning would be aimed at replacing the inefficient, excessively political funding and decision-making processes that govern so many airport/ airway issues in the U.S. Endless delays in decision-making, funding shortfalls, congestion in the air and on the ground, noise, competitive access to airports, safety, and shortage of inspectors and controllers, and design of the Federal Aviation Administration's new air traffic control program--all cry out for an entirely new approach.

A former FAA official says, "People feel something needs to be done. No one is happy with the system, including (FAA Administrator Donald) Engen. People feel we're drifting.' The fact that airlines are selling slots at constrained airports for $1 million each of pure profit when general aviation is using those same slots for the grand sum of $4 per landing, or the mismatch of slot availability and gate space are only two examples of how badly things have gone wrong.

Old program again?

Despite this almost universal desire to do something, there will be no brand-new start. Many would like to try, but, they contend, political opposition would be too great. Instead the need for reauthorization is breeding a depressing rehash of old struggles between traditional opposing forces--airlines and airports, airlines and general aviation, executive and legislative branches of government, the free market and government control, federal and local government control. With few exceptions there is a dearth of innovative thinking and an excess of tired old rhetoric among parties not wanting to rock their cozy old boat. Continuation of the old program looks like a sure-fire bet for at least a couple of years.

This may be depressing but unsurprising. Last year the administration wanted to do something innovative: sell the only two federally owned airports--Washington's National and Dulles--to a regional authority and put them on the same footing as other facilities in the nation's airport system. Instead the two facilities are being leased to the authority, which must submit to oversight by politicians who are supposedly acting as individuals, not members of Congress. The inability of the politicians to make a clean break with past practice is an accurate barometer of reauthorization.

Sept. 30, 1987, marks the end of the current five-year program authorizing expenditures from the user-based Trust Fund. Begun in Fiscal 1971 it was designed to supply a steady stream of money for airways and airport development. Lacking congressional action by the end of the fiscal year, the program would end and no monies could be taken from the fund. …

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