DOT chief: Airplane congestion to cost $63B

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Airport congestion will cost airlines $63 billion in lost revenue by the year 2040 without additional investment in a new national flight navigation system, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx warned Tuesday.

Speaking at a luncheon hosted by the Aero Club of Washington, Foxx said it was important to focus on aviation funding, even as lawmakers in Washington have turned the attention to expiring road and transit programs.

“With the Highway Trust Fund on track to bounce checks as soon as August, you‘ve probably read in the papers that DOT is focused on passing a surface funding bill. And it’s true; we are focused on surface reauthorization. But that doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten about funding for aviation. Far from it,” Foxx told the group.

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The current funding measure for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which was passed in 2012, is scheduled to last until 2015.  The 2012 bill included approximately $63 billion for the FAA to spend over a period of about three years, but the agency was hit like other areas of the federal government with sequester budget cuts.

Foxx said the result was that despite the 2012 bill still being in effect, the aviation industry was still facing an “infrastructure deficit” like other areas of transportation.

“The FAA is still operating at historically low funding levels,” Foxx said. “And this comes at a time when we predict that the use of our airplanes and airports will only rise.”

Foxx said DOT was trying to get a headstart on working with Congress to develop a 2015 reauthorization of the FAA bill so the agency does not lose time construction things like its NextGen system.

The FAA is planning to convert the nation’s airplane navigation from a World War II-era radar-based technology to satellite-based system.

Foxx said without the airplane navigation improvements, the U.S. economy would lose millions of dollars due to airline inefficiency.

“According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, congestion and delays at airports will cost the economy $63 billion per year by 2040,” he said. “Just to give you some points of comparison: that’s a little less than DOT’s entire annual budget; and it’s about three times more than the profits that the global airline industry is expected to take in this year. All of this is why we’ll be working with Congress, in advance of next year, to make sure that, at the very least, stable funding continues.”