Alternative ‘Fuel for Thought’ Challenges Aviation Industry
Airports across the nation are cutting back on their capital programs, and the industry is anxious for a full reauthorization of a Federal Aviation Administration funding bill rather than settling for topgap extensions. Perhaps the most pressing issues of all are implementing a modern air-traffic control system (NextGen) and finding alternatives to crude-oil-based jet fuels.
Catherine Lang, FAA’s acting associate administrator, told attendees of the American Association of Airport Executives that the Senate is the “wild card” in reauthorizing a four-year bill. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on March 5 approved a bill that would authorize $70 billion for FAA over the 2009-2012 period. It includes $16.2 billion for FAA’s Airport Improvement Program, which provides grants to fund runways, taxiways and other infrastructure. Under the bill, AIP would receive $3.9 billion in 2009, with $100-million annual increases after that, topping out at $4.2 billion in 2012.
The House bill also proposes raising Passenger Facility Charges from $4.50 to $7. But, “historically, the Senate has never pushed [for PFCs],,” notes Sam Whitehorn, executive vice president with McBee Strategic, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm.
At the AAAE conference, held in Philadelphia on June 14-17, Lang also called the Senate a “wild card” in terms of betting on a four-year bill passage. The fifth and latest extension for FAA programs is set to expire on June 30. “We have a highly engaged administration. [Transportation Secretary] Ray LaHood would like to see the bill done,” Lang said. “We’re saying to the administration that we have to stabilize airport expenses, and serial extensions are not stable.”
Gary Kelly, president and CEO of Southwest Airlines, said, “It is time to invest in fuel technology to reduce greenhouse gases and our dependence on foreign oil.” But that step requires gov- ernmental leadership, without “burdening our overtaxed industry,” he said. “Certification could be given to airlines for fuel alternatives.” Development of alternatives such as biofuels would mean the need for additional infrastructure such as refineries and pipelines, he noted.
When asked about stimulus funding for high-speed rail, Kelly said there is no official stance against it. But, he added, “Considering how little the stimulus provided for NexGen and aviation, to allocate the money it did for high-speed rail...you just don’t get the same return.”