NextGen Equipment Funding Raises Thorny Issues

Who will pay for the on board equipment required for FAA's NextGen initiative? The prospect of government subsidy for aircraft equipage appears to be creating two sides to an increasingly complex issue. And the old debate over user fees seems to be overlapping the discussion. In his recent Left Seat column Paying for Nextgen Equipment, Flying Editor in Chief J. Mac McClellan asserted that much of the cost burden of the air traffic control infrastructure would be shifted from ground-based FAA equipment (primarily radar tracking) to expensive avionics onboard aircraft. As such, he argued, part of the cost to equip aircraft might reasonably be expected to fall to the government. But indications from the White House Office of Management and Budget hint that any initiative that would add to a burgeoning federal deficit would face stiff opposition, regardless of its long-term prospects for increasing efficiency and lowering the cost of operating the airways system. And the debate could widen the rift between general aviation and the airlines. US Airways chairman and CEO Doug Parker has reportedly told the DOT secretary that he would prefer to live without NextGen if implementing it would incur increases on taxes and fees paid by airlines. As such, it would seem unlikely that airlines would support government funding of re-equipment costs that include general aviation.