Report: Sequestration will ground NextGen

The NextGen programme to overhaul the US airspace system could be delayed a decade if $1.2 trillion in automatic federal cuts are made, according to a new report.

One of two scenarios would occur if Congress doesn’t find some alternative to sequestration, according to a new report conducted by Philadelphia-based economic research company Econsult Corp., and commissioned by the Aerospace Industries Association. Both scenarios would hit the NextGen programme to some degree.

Budget reductions will either be distributed proportionally in the agency’s overall budget, two-thirds of which supports current operations and one-third of which supports NextGen development, or they will primarily be applied to research and development, with the biggest impact felt by the NextGen programme, the report states.

Another scenario would see the NextGen budget, which received $11 billion in funding through 2015 under the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization legislation slashed as the cuts are focussed on areas such as research and development, capital equipment and facilities. This would mean a 10-year delay in implementing a less ambitious air transportation system by 2035.

Lost benefits realised by NextGen would include lower airline expenditure and improved system performance, totaling more than $200 billion by the end of 2035. The current timetable estimates full implementation would be achieved by 2025.

According to the study, annual economic losses could amount to $80 billion annually by 2035, an annual decrease of 37 to 73 million in passenger enplanements and annual reductions of 1 to 2 billion pounds of transported air freight. The forecasted loss in output to the US economy is estimated to reach $9.2 to $18.4 billion, with $2.7 to $5.4 billion lost in wages and salaries.

“If sequestration is not stopped, it will be by far the most devastating budget cut to the FAA in its 54 years,” said former Secretary of Transportation and Congressman Norman Mineta. “The FAA is a critical safety organization that regulates our national air transportation system. Putting it at risk is folly beyond comparison.” Mineta is currently vice chair of public policies at Hill + Knowlton Strategies.

The study was released at a meeting of aviation leaders in Washington, who warned against the effects of sequestration. According to a letter from Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), ranking minority member of the House Appropriations Committee, to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction  in October 2011, sequestration could result in the closure of 246 airport control towers, and the loss of 1,500 air traffic controllers, 9,000 security screeners and 1,600 customs officers.

“With proper funding the FAA can be both safe and efficient,” said AIA President and CEO Marion C. Blakey. “Under sequestration, the air traffic control system will be hobbled for decades, leaving travelers, shippers and our economy in the lurch.”

Sequestration – triggered in 141 days unless Congress acts this year to repeal or delay it – would also have a devastating impact on the Next Generation Air Traffic Control System, delaying system implementation by a decade or more. The full implementation of NextGen, now scheduled for 2025, has been forecast to provide more than $281 billion in net benefits, save 27 million hours in flight delays and reduce 216 metric tons of emissions.

“This study reveals the draconian effect of sequestration on the FAA,” said Stephen P. Mullin, vice president and principal of Econsult Corporation and author of the study.  “Sequestration would force the FAA to slash operations, bringing gridlock to the skies today, or defund modernization and infrastructure work.  The closer we study sequestration the more destructive it turns out to be.”

Peter DuMont, President and CEO, Air Traffic Control Association said: “America needs jobs, not policies that handcuff federal agencies and force decisions that undermine safe air travel in this country. Our highly-skilled air traffic controllers keep the system moving 24 hours a day, seven days a week on behalf of the American people. As the economy continues to recover, new passengers and cargo are going to flood into the system.  We need to get ready, not give in to cuts that could leave America flying blind.”

Margaret Jenny, President, RTCA, added:  “After years of developing concepts and plans, the aviation community is beginning to work in partnership with the FAA to implement the first phases of this transformational modernization effort.  If either of the scenarios become a reality, the momentum and trust that has built up will be lost, leading to long-lasting negative impacts to NextGen and to the United States’ ability to keep pace with air traffic demand and maintain world leadership.”

The report is one of several released by AIA that demonstrate the impact of sequestration on the nation’s economy and the aerospace and defense industry. Most recently, a study by George Mason University’s Dr. Stephen Fuller concluded that 2.14 million jobs across the economy are at risk.

The Econsult study, “Economic Impacts of FAA Budget Sequestration on the U.S. Economy,” is available at www.secondtonone.org.

Read More: Sequestration’s ‘crippling’ effect on NextGen: AIA

Posted in CAAs/ANSPs, News, NextGen, Operations, Reports

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