Home » News: Is Underfunding making Air travel in the US unsafe?

News: Is Underfunding making Air travel in the US unsafe?

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US Travel Association

According to a press release by the US Travel Association, decades of underfunding in the Federal Aviation Administration may have led to air travel system in the country struggling to meet growing demand in the aviation sector.

The release says over half of all Americans (53%) and 81% of leisure travelers have travel planned in the next six months. Over a quarter of Americans (26%) plan to increase the amount they spend on leisure travel in the next three months as well.

This new survey comes just weeks after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) asked airlines to pull back slots at airports in New York and Washington, DC, this summer due to a lack of air traffic controller staffing.

“Americans are paying the price of years of chronic underinvestment—in technology and staffing—by the federal government in our nation’s air travel system,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman. “Air travelers are right to be frustrated and to demand more from Washington.”

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But Paul Hudson, President, FlyersRights.org and a Member of the FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory in an article published by eturbonews.com says the US aviation body has had a steady increase in its funding over the years.

FAA’s overall budget in 2013 was $15 Billion, in 2020 it went to $20 billion, in 2024 to $25 billion.

Until the recent $1.7 Trillion infrastructure, this added about $5 B annually.
The FAA was nearly entirely funded by the ticket excise tax and fuel taxes paid into the Aviation Trust Fund. This revenue has stagnated or gone down for two big reasons.

The Airport and Airway Revenue Act of 1970 created the Trust Fund to provide a dedicated source of funding for the U.S. aviation system, independent of the General Fund. The authority to collect aviation excise taxes and to spend from the Aviation Trust Fund must be reauthorized periodically.

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The Airport and Airway Trust Fund (AATF), sometimes referred to as the aviation trust fund, is the major funding source for federal aviation programs. The trust fund finances Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) capital investments in the airport and airway system as well as supports FAA research and operations costs.

Hudson explained: “The airlines have been avoiding the tax by shifting revenue from tickets to fees and other sources of revenue like money paid to airlines by credit card companies for frequent flyer miles.”

Due to COVID between 2020-22 there were big declines in the number of airline passengers and tickets sold, and less capital for the fund.

A deeper analysis is needed and one could go online to read the 900+ page annual budget requests by the FAA to do an even deeper analysis adding other sources.
Delays are the number one complaints by airline passengers.

They are largely the result of misplaced priorities and poor regulation by the FAA and under-investment by airlines in basic infrastructure, such as computer systems.
Staffing at FAA HQ is bloated with way too many 100,000 to 200,O00 employees.

Unions generally oppose all measures to increase the supply of pilots and air traffic controllers as this hurts their bargaining power.

The US has also restricted the supply of airport capacity by granting tax exempt anti-trust monopoly power to local government corporations resulting in chronic congestion delays and slower less reliable air travel than in the 1980s.
Chicago and NYNJ Port Authority being the worst examples.

It also effectively prohibits private airport ownership, prohibits federal government ownership and operation of airports, prohibits local and state subsidies of airlines and air travel.

Airports seek to maximize revenue. Parking fees represent 60% of the revenue airports collect.

“There is little or no incentive to increase public convenience, lower travel times and expenses or increase reliability. No other country has such dysfunctional policies that I am aware of.”, Hudson says.

It has also allowed airlines to phase out larger planes 250-500 passengers for domestic air travel in favor of more frequent flights of smaller planes 80-200 passengers increasing the strain on airport capacity.

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