U.S. airlines and small-jet owners have joined forces to lobby for $4 billion in economic-stimulus aid, setting aside a two-year dispute over air-traffic control costs.
Nine Washington-area trade groups representing carriers, plane users such as PepsiCo Inc., and manufacturers including Boeing Co. are seeking aid to advance the government’s so-called Next Generation overhaul of air-traffic control technology. They say they want to ensure lawmakers don’t overlook aviation in the $775 billion stimulus plan proposed by President-elect Barack Obama.
“There’s recognition amongst all of us that the only way we’re going to move NextGen is if we’re united,” said Sharon Pinkerton, vice president for government affairs at the Air Transport Association, in an interview.
Those groups include the Air Transport Association, Regional Airline Association, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Aerospace Industries Association, National Business Aviation Association, Cargo Airline Association, Nationa Air Carriers Association, National Air Transportation Association, and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association.
In speaking about a possible stimulus package last week, American Airlines CEO Gerard Arpey told reporters he felt his industry should benefit. From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
“I would like to think that the airline industry would merit a great deal of attention,” [Arpey] said. Airlines, rocked by skyrocketing fuel costs through the summer, were subsequently faced with an economic slowdown that has curtailed demand.
“We seem to have experienced an almost seamless transition in which our fuel cost crisis has been replaced by a potential air travel demand crisis,” Arpey told reporters.
The Aerospace Industry Association’s Dan Elwell testified before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure this week (press release, full text PDF), and called on Congress to fund NextGen investments through tax incentives as well as the Airport Improvement Program. Referring to the potential of NextGen technology to improve fuel efficiency, Elwell said:
At a time when congress is actively engaged in promoting economic recovery instruments and policies to protect our planet from global warming, robust investment in a single enterprise that will foster both is what we call a “no brainer.”
Elwell then went on to issue some specific requests:
1. Economic stimulus package funding increases for the Airport Improvement Program should include flexible eligibility for NextGen investments both on and off airside property. Funds to build taxiways and runways will create jobs in local districts and provide more room for aircraft, but without new NextGen approaches, new ground tracking systems, and ADS-B devices, growth at our airports will be restricted. [..]
2. One year extension of existing legislation granting accelerated depreciation for the purchase of new, environmentally friendly aircraft and the addition of new language to provide the same benefit for the purchase of commercial aircraft.
Finally, Elwell clarified that his industry was not asking for direct government investment.
AIA and its members do not support handouts or bailouts. The only economic stimulus civil aviation needs in today’s economic crisis is growth made possible by the efficiencies of NextGen, and confidence in the industry that the commitment to implement NextGen is real and on a predictable schedule.
An interesting sidenote: The committee hearing was convened by chairman Jim Oberstar in order to promote economic stimulus initiatives for the construction and transportation sectors. In his opening remarks, Oberstar made it clear that his focus was on roads, bridges and rail infrastructure, not aviation.
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