That is the clear message National Air Traffic Controllers Association President Paul Rinaldi delivered Tuesday to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, for its hearing examining the upcoming FAA reauthorization and issues in modernizing and operating the nation’s airspace. Rinaldi emphasized the urgent need for funding certainty, to ensure everything from effective NextGen implementation to adequate staffing of air traffic controllers.
“Sequestration cut nearly $493 million from the FAA’s Operations budget, $142 million from its Facilities and Equipment budget, and $8.6 million from its Research, Engineering, and Development budget,” Rinaldi testified. “These sequestration cuts were not the result of a research-driven strategy to increase safety and efficiency, but rather for the sole purpose of saving money.”
Sequestration cuts have had many negative effects on the NAS, including massive flight delays that resulted from the FAA being forced to furlough FAA employees, including controllers, in 2013. “These funding cuts are problematic and will continue until Congress finds a way to end sequestration,” Rinaldi testified. “Until then, our NAS is in jeopardy of falling behind on efficiency, capacity, and most importantly, safety.”
While NATCA sees many other problems and challenges for the FAA, Rinaldi testified that funding is the primary issue to be addressed with the utmost urgency. The NAS is a 24/7 operation, and the FAA’s aviation specialists and air traffic controllers must continue to run that system while simultaneously working on research, development, testing, and the implementation of technology modernization, as well as training new hires to become fully certified controllers (CPCs). Stop-and-go funding increases costs and creates delays for all modernization efforts.
Rinaldi’s testimony outlined several consequences of unstable, unpredictable funding:
- Operational and Redundancy Concerns
- Inadequate Staffing
- Hiring and Training Challenges
- Delays in Modernizing the NAS
- Continued Cuts to Federal Employee Pensions and Benefits
- Potential Tower Closures
- Potential Loss of Contract Towers
- Economic Impact
“The NAS and the FAA workforce are in a transition period,” Rinaldi testified. “The FAA is working to implement NextGen modernization projects that will deploy new technology and equipment. In order to keep pace with these modernization projects and the rest of the world, the FAA needs to be properly funded and staffed, which can only happen with stable and predictable funding. We all have a stake in this economic engine, which contributes $1.5 trillion annually to our GDP and employs 12 million Americans. Congress, the FAA, and industry will need to work together to ensure that our NAS remains the safest and most efficient airspace in the world.”
To see the full NATCA testimony, please use this URL: