The Benign Neglect of Our Nation's Aviation System

Brad Mims
Published in: 

Brad Mims' career in the transportation industry spans three decades, including executive-level responsibility for communications, government affairs, policy, administration and project implementation. Currently, Mims is vice president of Parsons Brinckerhoff in Washington, D.C. He has served as a board member for Airport Consultants Council and Conference of Minority Transportation Officials.

As one who has been a devout student and player in our nation's transportation policy and politics, I call on the U.S. Senate to pass the Aviation Reauthorization legislation.

It has been almost three years since we have had an aviation authorization! In my humble view, there is absolutely no excuse for such benign neglect of our nation's aviation safety system. I have always given in to the view that there are many other more important domestic issues our leaders must address. However, inaction by the U.S. Senate on moving the Aviation Reauthorization has significantly slowed changes in aviation policy and slowed needed airport capital improvements. I have always given the deliberative nature of the Senate the benefit of the doubt. However, it is high time for the Senate to move with some dispatch to get a bill passed so aviation safety and efficiency can move forward.

I truly commend House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Jim Oberstar, Aviation Subcommittee chairman Jerry Costello and the entire House of Representatives for its vision, wherewithal and diligence in getting House Aviation Reauthorization bills passed since the expiration of the Aviation Authorization almost three years ago.

As a former Congressional staffer who handled transportation issues for a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I am fully aware of the "jobs impact" aviation infrastructure spending has on our economy. Since early 2008, the economy has shed nearly 7 million jobs.

However, the Obama administration included $1.1 billion for airport infrastructure projects in the initial American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which created tens of thousands of well-paying jobs. In a very short time, the FAA obligated 99% of the $1.1 billion for projects that were shovel ready. At the end of the 2009 fiscal year, the FAA had more than tripled the Congressional Budget Office's projection of the expected grant outlays for airports, far exceeding the target spend rates of many other programs.

As the prospect for a "jobs bill" looms, the aviation industry calls on Congress to include an additional $2 billion for airport improvement projects. Investing in airport infrastructure meets the goal of expending funds in an efficient way to create and maintain well-paying jobs.

I commend Congress for including language in ARRA to exclude the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) on airports bonds. This freed airports to borrow much-needed funds for capital improvements. According to Airports Council International, 68 transactions representing about $7.74 billion in airport bonds were sold at 35 different airports last year. Forty-six of the transactions representing about $6.19 billion (80%) in bonds at 27 airports have benefited from ARRA, including $5.47 billion in AMT relief. ARRA has resulted in reduced financing costs to airports that can now be used toward other airport development and long-term debt reduction. This has helped airports continue ongoing projects while saving and creating thousands of jobs in communities across the country.

If the aviation professional services and construction industries are to survive, we must realize the passage of the Aviation Reauthorization very soon. Our industry delivers improvement projects at airports of all sizes throughout the country. We also help airports and other transportation entities get projects ready for planning, design and construction, which facilitates the ARRA grant process.

Unfortunately, the current available funding falls woefully short of identified needs for aviation safety and facilities. Therefore, again, I call on the Senate to act with dispatch to approve the FAA Reauthorization legislation. The flying public and our economy deserve to grow and thrive with the funding and efficiency that this proposal will provide.

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