Reining in government spending has become a political fixation in North America and Europe, with Europe engaging in, at times, draconian budget cutting. In the United States, the wisdom of further cutting government spending while the economy is struggling to regain its vigor is still a point of heated debate. However, while early returns from the European experience are not encouraging, that’s not the point of this discussion.
What is the point is the stunning news from Capitol Hill in Washington that a deal has been crafted to fund the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for four full years, including development of the NextGen revolution of air traffic control (ATC). If you’re not a close observer of politics, this might seem to be merely good news. But if you’ve been watching FAA operate for five years without a real budget — using 23 separate short-term continuations to stay in business, plus two weeks of partial shutdown — then this is a bombshell of immense proportions. The fact that this Congress, which has been straitjacketed by too many points of demagoguery to count, was able, to use a word much out of fashion in the United States of late, to compromise on numerous points of contention and get this done is truly mind-blowing.
This tremendous affirmation of the importance of a safe, efficient aviation system to the economic life of any nation points to the power of that reality. But not all nations see it the same way. This is often a problem in developing nations that can be overcome with dedication and wisdom, as Nigeria is demonstrating. But now some developed nations are lagging in providing proper funding. As Bill Voss pointed out in his recent column (see, “Austerity and Denial”), there are signs that European nations have come to accept their very high level of safety as a constant that cannot be threatened by budget cutting or the lack of political will to move ahead with funded staffing hires.
To be honest, this column started life in my head as a rant against all nations that are starving their regulators and ATC system developments as part of an overall attack on spending, no matter what. Now the U.S. Congress, of all places, comes in with an unexpected boon to many in America — and outside, as FAA’s impact reaches far beyond national borders.
Taking a major role in this funding breakthrough was Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), ranking minority member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, who I first met more than a few years ago when she was Kay Bailey, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, showing how far the safety community can spread.
She said, “We are finally at a point where we’re going to have four years of stability in this industry. It is a huge accomplishment. … NextGen can’t be done in six months or one-year extensions. That is a huge technological advance for our air traffic control system to meet the standards for the rest of the world, and we need a satellite-based system. We would never be able to get a start on that without having this four-year [period] of stability, knowing it’s going to be an ongoing process that is built in the proper way.”
So, for a change, and happily, I take my hat off to the folks in a seat of government power for doing the right thing. Hurray!
Now, about these other folks…