Transportation chief pivots to FAA funding

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Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx pushed lawmakers to begin working on renewing the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) funding, which is expiring next year, even as he continues to express unhappiness with a temporary highway spending package that was approved last month. 

“Even with all of the recent focus on our Highway Trust Fund, we haven't forgotten that the FAA — the agency responsible for safeguarding American aviation — is still operating at historically low funding levels,” Foxx wrote in a blog post on the transportation department’s website.

“So you can be sure we’ll keep working with Congress, in advance of next year, to secure stable funding and to pass a new FAA re-authorization bill,” he continued. “Because without FAA re-authorization, those big dreams of a safer, more efficient aviation system will remain just dreams.” 

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The $63 billion funding bill that was approved for the FAA by Congress in 2012 is scheduled to expire in September 2015. 

Foxx said Tuesday after a visit to the agency’s William J. Hughes Technical Center in New Jersey that it was important to avoid a protracted fight over aviation funding like the arguments that marked the recently completely highway bill debate to avoid delays in the FAA’s development of its NextGen airplane navigation system. 

“In 2012, the estimated cost of airport delays and congestion was $22 billion, and our forecasts indicate that the use of airplanes and airports will continue rising steadily,” Foxx wrote. 

“How then, do we ensure that we continue to have the safest, most efficient airspace in the world?” the DOT chief continued. “Our NextGen package of new technologies and new processes. By shifting to satellite-based technologies, we’ve begun increasing capacity in the system, enabling more direct flight paths, saving fuel and reducing noise and emissions.” 

The FAA has been planning for years to discard the World War II-era radar technology that has been used to manage airplane traffic for generations in favor of a satellite-based system. 

The agency says the new system will ease congestion in the airspace around busy U.S. airports by streamlining the arrivals and departures of flights. They also argue that navigating flights more efficiently will have environmental benefits because airplanes will use less gas and produce less smog during landings and takeoffs. 

The FAA’s original plans called for the NextGen system to be installed by 2014 at the busiest airports in the U.S., and nationwide by 2020. 

The agency’s budget for the conversion was reduced by about $200 million in the 2013 sequester, however. 

The NextGen system is expected to cost about $40 billion in total to complete.

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