A ‘roller coaster’: Inside the FAA’s quest for stable funding

Amid an increasingly unpredictable funding landscape, the FAA could now be ready to help define its financial future

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Release Date
June 11, 2024
A ‘roller coaster’: Inside the FAA’s quest for stable funding

Last year, a group of experts from across the aviation industry were commissioned by the Federal Aviation Administration to look at ways that the agency could improve safety within the national airspace system (NAS) following a spate of near-miss safety events that captivated the nation at the time and spawned several National Transportation Safety Board investigations.

Seven months later, the NAS Safety Review Team (SRT) published a 52-page report that cited funding shortfalls, staffing issues and budgetary instability, among other things, as key problems facing the NAS today. Specifically, the SRT called out the “gridlock” in recent Congresses as a significant challenge to establishing a stable budget, pointing to increasingly common funding lapses and government shutdowns as something that “undermines the FAA’s ability to effectively perform its mission.”

“There is a tendency for I think the industry generally to focus on what’s right in front of us this year. You know, what is the current appropriations drama? Are we going to have a budget that gets done at the last minute and everyone relaxes and all of that,” former FAA Administrator and SRT team member Michael Huerta told The Air Current in an interview.

“But as a government, we have a very hard time looking long term,” he said, pointing out that the purpose of the SRT’s work was to start a larger conversation about how to tackle the substantial challenges faced by the nation’s aviation system. The SRT went as far as to recommend that the FAA be exempt entirely from “the operational effect of federal government shutdowns.”

Now, an internal FAA town hall featuring comments from Administrator Mike Whitaker viewed by TAC suggests that the agency could be starting an effort to build broader support for budgetary stability, having just navigated yet another reauthorization process that saw multiple short-term extensions cloud its mandate. And while the timeline remains murky, the agency’s success or failure in making such a move could reshape how the regulator both budgets for future projects and navigates future government shutdowns — affecting every single aspect of the NAS.

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