Airports Council chief predicts fiscal cliff deal

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Principato argued that such an agreement would be good for the aviation industry since federal funding is crucial to both airport upgrades and the Federal Aviation Administration's transition to a satellite-based airplane navigation system called NextGen.

"I do agree that if sequestration happens, NextGen would take a big blow," he said.  "This cannot be permitted to happen.  But pardon me for being a little jaded.  I’ve been working on air traffic control reform and modernization since 1993 when I authored a presidential commission report calling for satellite based navigation by 1997."

Funding for the NextGen system, which is being designed to replace radar-based navigation equipment that has been in place since World War II, would be threatened if the FAA's overall appropriation was included in across-the-board cuts of federal agency's budget that included in the so-called sequestration deal that was approved by lawmakers in 2011.

Principato said the imbroglio shows why the development of a new national aviation navigation system should not be left to the budgetary whims of Congress.

"In the end, the best way to move this along is to change the way it is financed, allow access to capital markets, as proposed by our 1993 commission and so many others," he said.  "The real lesson from sequestration is that getting air traffic control modernization out of the usual Washington way of doing things is the best answer."

Principato added that the same could be said about airport improvements.

"Although the federal grant program is not impacted by sequestration, it just shows how unreliable Washington is as a partner," he wrote. "We must allow airports more freedom to generate their own resources. Bottom line, doubt it will happen, but I think sequestration really shows how we need less Washington in the matter of aviation infrastructure."