By Tom Brantley, Lee Moak, Paul Rinaldi and Veda Shook
Special to Roll Call
Nov. 28, 2011, Midnight
Our aviation system is the safest and most reliable in the world. It is operated by dedicated, experienced professionals who understand that there is no room for error.
Yet that exemplary record and the jobs of thousands of hardworking Americans hang in the balance each time Congress fails to pass a long-term plan to fund the Federal Aviation Administration. We are now on our 22nd short-term extension of the FAA reauthorization bill. Enough is enough.
When Congress approves a short-term extension, the safety of our aviation system is put on the line. The system needs consistent federal funding to ensure that future investments are made in vital safety technologies such as NextGen, a satellite-based tracking system. Long-term funding would also enhance maintenance and FAA oversight of U.S. air carriers that outsource to foreign repair stations, which do not adhere to U.S. safety standards.
A long-term FAA bill would also clear the way for the National Academy of Sciences to adequately estimate the staffing needs of the air traffic controller and technician workforces and require the FAA to fully implement a staffing model for safety inspectors. Current staffing of inspectors, sadly, is not adequate.
We simply canít afford to gamble with the FAA bill any longer.
This summer, 4,000 FAA employees were furloughed because Congress couldnít agree on a long-term plan. The impasse also led to the temporary shutdown of vital infrastructure and modernization projects such as runway improvements and equipment upgrades. It sidelined engineers, architects and safety personnel.
In Boston, a critical project to improve the longest runway at Logan Airport was put on hold. In Salt Lake City, work to minimize the chances of a radar failure was halted. At Newark Liberty International Airport, efforts to reduce the dangers posed by a particular approach to runways were stalled. And in Chicago, stop-work orders were issued in the midst of an upgrade to vital data/communications equipment that enables pilots and controllers to communicate.
No one should be comfortable with this situation. The aviation industry and the professionals who ensure its safety are indispensable to the health and competitiveness of our nationís economy. The meltdown this summer should have been a wake-up call for Congress, but, unfortunately, it wasnít.
In September, Congress again decided to put a Band-Aid on the problem. It passed yet another short-term bill to keep the FAA funded through January. This simply cannot continue.
Four separate federal commissions sponsored over the past 20 years by both political parties have agreed that a comprehensive and, yes, long-term FAA policy is essential both to aviation and the overall economy. They agreed that a years-long plan would enhance job creation, improve global competitiveness and spur economic growth.
The strengths of our aviation industry are clear. Aviation contributes more than $730 billion ó or more than 5 percent ó to our gross domestic product with almost $1.3 trillion in economic output. It drives nearly 11 million American jobs, both in the industry and as a result of it.
Passage of a long-term FAA reauthorization would only build on this success: It would create more than 300,000 new jobs.
To be clear, the legislation pending in Congress isnít perfect. But it will significantly improve safety in our skies as well as maintain and, in places, accelerate modernization programs that will help America uphold its position as the world leader in safety and innovation.
Air travel is the safest form of transportation. Thanks to our nationís air traffic controllers, pilots, flight attendants, aviation safety inspectors and technicians and the diligence of U.S. airlines, Americans are able to travel reliably to more places and with less effect on the environment on airplanes than on any other type of transit.
But the past decade has been hard on our aviation system. The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, shut down our air system when it was already experiencing serious financial trouble. Since then, the industry has lost $55 billion and 150,000 jobs.
The strain on our system, its employees and our 757 million annual air travelers has been immense. That is why it is more important than ever that Congress pass a long-term FAA reauthorization bill.
Without it, aviation wonít expand and our competitiveness in the global marketplace will suffer. Foreign airlines, which are elaborately backed by their governments, are already cutting deeply into a realm that the U.S. once dominated.
Americaís aviation safety professionals want nothing more than to ensure traveler safety. Thatís why Congress must lay aside its difference and stop passing self-defeating, temporary solutions and come up with a multiyear FAA reauthorization bill.
The risks are too great and the stakes are too high to do otherwise.
Tom Brantley is president of Professional Aviation Safety Specialists. Lee Moak is president of the Air Line Pilots Association International. Paul Rinaldi is president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. Veda Shook is international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.