Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Aerospace Association Head 'Wary' about ATC Restructuring

The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) representing major U.S. aircraft manufacturers and suppliers has not taken a position on proposed ATC restructuring, but its chief executive says the move to create an independent organization to manage air traffic concerns him. That view differs from the airline industry’s position and that of congressional leaders who want to form a new ATC entity separate of the Federal Aviation Administration.

“I’m wary,” said AIA president and CEO Dave Melcher, who spoke with reporters on December 6 following the association’s year-end review and forecast luncheon. “I’m concerned about disturbance to what was a long evolution of trying to get together this national air traffic system, and [to] get it in place with equipage in a way that is consistent with the original goals.”

A former U.S. Army three-star general, Melcher joined AIA in June 2015 after serving as president and CEO of Exelis. The FAA chose that company in 2007 to build the nationwide ground infrastructure for automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B), the aircraft tracking system that is a core program of the agency’s NextGen ATC modernization effort. Harris Corporation acquired Exelis in May 2015 and now manages the ADS-B system.

In his remarks, Melcher said that separating the FAA from its ATC function by creating an independent organization akin to an air navigation service provider could upset progress toward achieving the NextGen vision—which includes routine surveillance by ADS-B instead of radar—by 2020. The leadership of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, led by its chairman, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), contends that a new ATC entity freed from the annual federal budget cycle will be better able to accomplish ATC modernization. Airlines for America, the trade group representing most major U.S. airlines, supports the change.

“I have a view as a former CEO who had some large contracts with the FAA [that] you don’t want to throw that into chaos by changing the management structure,” Melcher said. “On the other hand, I can see an argument for having better access to capital markets. But in large part, I don’t think we’d be talking about this if Congress simply reauthorized the FAA for a period of four or five years and provided the annual funding and appropriations that were necessary to complete the programs. You have to wonder if we did just that, whether we would really even have a conversation about why the FAA can’t get its work done.”

In July, the Congress passed short-term legislation to extend FAA funding through next September. The ATC “reform” option Shuster champions will arise when negotiations over long-term FAA re-authorization legislation resume in the new year. Shuster has said that he has spoken with incoming Republican President Donald Trump, who “generally likes the idea” of spinning off the FAA’s ATC responsibility to a not-for-profit corporation, the Associated Press reported.

Melcher did not call out the ATC restructuring issue in his keynote address to the luncheon, saying only that he is “heartened” by what Trump and Democrats as well as Republicans have said about the need to repair the nation’s transportation infrastructure. “If we’re to tackle this problem smartly…we have to adequately fund efforts to modernize the national airspace system through NextGen and replace or modernize our aging NASA facilities, much of which were built in the 1960s,” he added.

(Bill Carey - AINOnline News)

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