FAA Needs to Refocus Efforts to Keep Flying

Posted May 1, 2003 at 2:57pm

The Federal Aviation Administration has lived with serious operational and long-term structural problems for far too long. Unfortunately, our aviation industry and the flying public have suffered the consequences of an institution that has not been able to modernize efficiently. At best I have often referred to the FAA as a dysfunctional federal agency.

With core aviation security functions transferred to the Transportation Security Administration, the FAA should now properly focus on issues related to the safety and capacity of our national airspace system.

However, air traffic control modernization remains grossly over budget and behind schedule. Although the FAA has made significant progress with a few programs, other important procurement efforts are falling into jeopardy. Unfortunately, by the time a new technology is approved by the agency, it is often obsolete.

The Air Traffic Control system itself is plagued by inefficiencies, redundancies and deficiencies. While recognized as the safest in the world, the system has failed to keep up with increasing demands and is not equipped to meet future growth and needs. Ultimately, its problems are harmful to aviation industry revenues, inconvenience the traveling public and, if left unchecked, will result in a long-term drain on our economy.

The need to reform and restructure the FAA is not a new idea. No other agency in our federal government is charged with the responsibility to operate a 24-hour-per-day, seven-day-a-week high-tech system that controls the moment-by-moment activities of a major commercial sector of our economy.

In the Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century, Congress attempted to address functional and organizational problems by unlocking the Aviation Trust Fund and adjusting the FAA’s management structure.

One of the key elements of this legislation was the creation of the chief operating officer position to oversee the day-to-day operation of the air traffic control system while the FAA administrator focused on the larger issues.

Unfortunately, the law created overlapping responsibilities and crisscrossing lines of authority. In addition to the COO and the administrator, there is a Management Advisory Council and a subcommittee of that council which acts as an oversight board, overseeing the COO and the air traffic control system. It is not entirely clear whether the COO reports to the administrator or the oversight board.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the FAA has been unable to find a candidate to fill this nebulous and ill-defined position.

Congress must act to reform this important agency, so it can become more business-like with improved efficiency and performance. The FAA must better facilitate growth and incorporate new technology in its daily operations. This year’s reauthorization of the FAA will be critical to shaping the future of U.S. aviation.

Though it is currently experiencing difficult times, our aviation industry will reach capacity once again, and hopefully in the near future. However, the future success of this important economic enterprise will be dependent on the ability of the FAA to effectively manage our airspace, not serve as an obstacle to conducting business and generating commerce.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) is chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on aviation.