Fly NextGen: Given that airlines have reduced flights, do you think capacity will continue to be seen as an urgent issue?
Jerry Costello: Well, oil was $120 a barrel … it’s now come down significantly. I think that the airline industry will in fact come back, just as the economy will in fact come back. So it’s just a matter of time before the demand for travel will continue to increase, and as it does, we must meet the infrastructure challenges and improve the air traffic control system in order to meet the demand of the future. I think it would be a mistake to believe that NextGen and the infrastructure improvements are not needed because of the temporary reduction in the number of flights.
Fly NextGen: Speaking for a moment about general aviation — here we have a well-organized, highly vocal group that opposes any type of fees or access restrictions around airspace. Do you see their concerns as legitimate?
Jerry Costello: First of all, the major blunder by the Bush administration concerning user fees was that while they spent a great deal of time talking about imposing user fees on general aviation, they were never able to explain — number one, why it was necessary, number two, how user fees would be assessed, number three, how they would be collected, number four, what the administrative cost of collecting user fees would be. They spent a great deal of time talking about imposing user fees, and at no time explained to the American people, let alone the Congress, how the system would work. So it was a major failure on their part. In my judgment, we do not need to impose user fees. We increased fuel taxes in the bill — both for general aviation and for jet fuel — and we were able to generate a historic amount of funding. I do not see the need for user fees and will continue to oppose them.
Fly NextGen: Your subcommittee will look a bit different next year, with three members not returning – Robin Hayes (R-NC), Nick Lampson (D-TX), and Randy Kuhl (R-NY). What impact will that have?
Jerry Costello: I think you will see members on that committee will continue to be opposed to user fees. I don’t think there’s any question about that. As far as reauthorization — I think we will use HR2881 as the basis to go forward with a new bill, with some minor modifications, and it is my hope that we can have the reauthorization bill before the committee and the full House very early in the session.
Fly NextGen: Specifically, when would be your target — what’s your ideal scenario?
Jerry Costello: You know, we have three major bills to pass out of the [Transportation & Infrastructure] Committee in ’09. We have the FAA reauthorization, we have the highway bill, and the Water Resources Development Act. And I see the FAA reauthorization as the first major bill to come out of our committee. So … I’m hoping sooner rather than later — I don’t want to put a specific time on it. I’d like to see it come out of the committee very early in the first quarter of the year, but to get it to the floor is another question because we have to look at how much floor time we have and what the congressional schedule will look like for the full House considering legislation. But I’m hoping to get it out of the committee by the end of March.