This truly is the $64 question! NAS modernization is no different than any other form of infrastructure in the US. This country has systematically neglected its infrastructure way too long. The bridge collapse of the St. Anthony Falls Bridge in Minneapolis, the bridge closures across the nation, huge potholes in freeways, not just secondary roads, but major arteries, rail beds that have been closed to disrepair, and waterways threatening breach and filled with silt. This country enjoys some of the finest domestic necessities anywhere in the world, but they do not want to pay for something until it fails. This had been referred to as blood safety-the need to make a change for better only after a catastrophic mishap occurs.

NAS modernization is no different. Most of America’s infrastructure is 1950’s vintage, an era when America was growing and the economy thrived along with the average American. Now, the economy is struggling, alongside average Americans. When America and Americans are living from paycheck to paycheck and the national debt is growing at alarming rates, does anyone consider the NAS worthy of scarce dollars? The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has estimated that the country needs to spend $1.6 trillion over five years (Sofge, 2008). Since the publishing of that article, the ASCE graded America’s infrastructure a GPA of “D” in their 2009 report card (ASCE, 2012). The ASCE report card for aviation is bleak! It scored a grade of “D” (ASCE, 2012).

Aviation’s rapid movement of goods and services, as well as its support of tourism, is critical to the economic vitality of the nation, and air travel is often chosen over other modes of transportation on the basis of convenience, time, and cost. Thus, the consequence of failure is severe. In a highly complex system like aviation, resilience is not simply a matter of technical or facility upgrades. Future investments must consider dynamic system changes, security, capacity, life-cycle facility maintenance, technology innovations, and redundancy (ASCE, 2012). In the face of recent FAA estimates that predict an annual 3% growth in air travel, the continuing delays in reauthorization of federal programs and updating of the outdated air traffic control system threaten the system’s ability to meet the needs of the American people and economy. To remain successful, the nation’s aviation systems need robust and flexible federal leadership, a strong commitment to airport infrastructure, and the rapid deployment of NextGen. Additionally, the ASCE propose these solutions:

  • Modernize the air traffic control system by implementing the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) program;
  • Increase the aviation user fee to meet the needs of the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS);
  • Increase the Passenger Facilities Charge (PFCs) cap;
  • Use Airport and Airway Trust Fund balances for air traffic and airport infrastructure and improvement projects only, not security costs;
  • Prevent trust fund revenues from being diverted from aviation transportation system investment by preserving current firewalls;
  • Close the gap on annual funding shortfalls by increasing funding guarantees in the reauthorization;
  • Streamline the regulatory environmental permitting process to reduce delays in constructing new or upgrading existing airport facilities.

On January 3, 2012, House Resolution 658 passed, amending “amend title 49, United States Code, to authorize appropriations for the Federal Aviation Administration for fiscal years 2011 through 2014, to streamline programs, create efficiencies, reduce waste, and improve aviation safety and capacity, to provide stable funding for the national aviation system, and for other purposes.”

Specifically, Ҥ 48103. Airport planning and development and noise compatibility planning and programs:

  • (a) IN GENERAL.—There shall be available to the Secretary of Transportation out of the Airport and Airway Trust Fund established under section 9502 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to make grants for airport planning and airport development under section 47104, airport noise compatibility planning under section 47505(a)(2), and carrying out noise compatibility programs under section 47504(c) $3,350,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2012 through 2015.

Whilst this authorization is long overdue, this $3.35Billion falls incredibly short of the funds necessary to realize NextGen. ASCE’s report card on aviation reports the required amount at $87Billion, as shown in figure 1 (FAA, 2008).

Figure 1. Estimated 5-Year Funding Requirements for Aviation.

This estimate was given to Congress in 2008; much has changes in four years. The cost of every aspect of construction and innovation continues to climb. One can legitimately fear the historical repeat of projects uncompleted due to funding.