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Walter S. Coleman
Regional Airline Association
National Civil Aviation Review Commission
May 28, 1997
The Regional Airline Association appreciates the opportunity to appear before the National Civil Aviation Review Commission to express the views of our members on funding sources for the Federal Aviation Administration.
SUPPORT FOR PREDICTABLE STABLE FAA FUNDING SOURCE
The Regional Airline Association, on behalf of its 75 airline members, is a strong proponent for the establishment of a predictable and stable funding system for the FAA. We strongly support establishing a reliable funding stream to insure that FAA can perform all of the functions which are necessary for air carriers to serve passengers and shippers and it is particularly important to have adequate funding for FAA to make timely decisions to improve and maintain the U.S. air traffic control system.
Each element of the air traffic control system performs a crucial role in either permitting efficient flight operations or constraining flight operations and limiting the capabilities of todays advanced technology commercial aircraft. Commercial airlines in the U.S. are able to make several important decisions which determine how they will deliver their scheduled air service. U.S. airlines choose which aircraft to operate, the markets to serve, service levels to provide, fares to charge and other important aspects of delivering this important service to their passengers and shippers. However, the provision of air traffic services is a federal function which must receive adequate funding in order to meet the efficiencies expected by the airlines.
Airlines which operate in an air traffic control system which cannot deliver efficient air traffic management will experience increased delays and longer enroute times among other undesirable outcomes. For the airline, these characteristics reduce aircraft utilization and increase fuel and crew costs. The traveler and shipper both lose the irretrievable element of time.
Todays regional airline aircraft have extraordinary technology and performance capabilities. These include the increased speed capability of the regional fleet on new high speed turbo propeller aircraft and regional jets, and a growing number of aircraft with satellite navigation and communication capabilities. These capabilities are being significantly underutilized.
The Federal Aviation Administration must have a stable, predictable and adequate funding system to meet the demands of those who are dependent on the FAA to provide the resources necessary to provide safe, reliable air transportation. In addition to adequate funding for improvements in the ATC system, the FAA requires the funding and resources to perform other services such as certification of airmen and aircraft and research and development.
THE IMPORTANCE OF REGIONAL AIRLINE SERVICE IN THE UNITED STATES
The Regional Airline Association is participating in this and other discussions on FAA funding because of the important role that regional airlines perform throughout the United States. Regional airlines serve nearly 500 airports in the 48 contiguous states. Many of these airports are served by large air carriers but 300 of the 500 airports are served exclusively by regional airlines. With three fifths of U.S. communities dependent on regional airlines for access to larger cities and hubs and into the national air transportation system, it is important that we identify a funding mechanism for the FAA to meet the expectations of travelers going to and from these communities.
Regional aviation is, by definition, short haul. The average trip length for passengers on regional airlines is 230 miles. This short haul characteristic results in the aircraft in the regional fleet making, on average, twice as many daily takeoffs and landings per aircraft than the larger long haul aircraft operated by the major carriers. Most aircraft in regional airline service make eight to ten takeoffs and landings every day. This both contributes to the demand on the air traffic control system and requires a high level of efficiency on the part of the air traffic control system in order to manage this demand. This daily, multiple flight operation is not likely to experience any fundamental changes as most regional airlines coordinate their schedules with major airline partners to provide efficient connections for travelers at large cities and connecting hubs.
Improvements in ATC efficiency are necessary to achieve the business objectives of passengers, shippers and airlines.
IDENTIFYING A FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION FUNDING MECHANISM
The Regional Airline Association is vitally interested in identifying a funding system for FAA which will fund FAA to a level that will permit it to perform its tasks efficiently. RAA members have worked with other groups in examining the current funding system and exploring funding alternatives which are not dependent on a passenger ticket tax.
We recognize the reluctance on the part of many users of the system to discard a taxing mechanism that has become familiar. However, we agree with others that the current funding mechanism, based on a percentage of the ticket price, is not be the appropriate mechanism it was prior to deregulation.
The establishment of the National Civil Aviation Review Commission is, perhaps, an indication of the difficulty that exists in determining how to fund the FAA. If this were a simpler task, we presumably be meeting to chose among several acceptable FAA funding alternatives.
Some alternative funding arrangements have been offered, many of them thoughtfully crafted with an objective of aligning costs to the users with services delivered by FAA but accommodating unique needs to ensure that the integrity and scope of the national air transportation system is maintained. Acceptance or rejection of some of these proposals has been based, not on how elegantly crafted the proposals were, but whether a proposed adjustment to the amount paid by each user was more or less than the current excise tax. There is little doubt of the difficulty this presents for the commission. Any funding mechanism that is identified must meet a critical test of not increasing the total task burden that is currently imposed on the passengers, shippers and air carriers
There is unlikely to be a simple solution. The objective is to improve the efficiency of the FAA through the establishment of an adequate and predictable funding system. The RAA member airlines, collectively one of the primary users of the system with 2100 aircraft and 62 million passengers carried in 1996, seek a funding solution that will provide FAA with adequate funding and permit regional airlines to continue to serve the hundreds of communities they serve today.