Barger presses NextGen case for Obama stimulus funding

By Lori Ranson

JetBlue Airways chief executive Dave Barger went to the White House to urge President Barack Obama to include funding to equip aircraft for NextGen air-traffic control systems in the currently-debated economic stimulus package.

In its just-passed stimulus bill, the House of Representatives largely ignored the equipage issue, instead setting aside $3 billion for airport grants, giving the TSA $500 million to install explosive detection equipment in airports, but allocating only $150 million to NASA for research and development on NextGen.

Barger was among of handful of CEOs meeting with Obama to discuss the stimulus, and was the sole representative of the airline industry.

Barger says, “The aviation industry needs increased federal investment in our nation’s air traffic control infrastructure in order to best serve the travelling public and stimulate economic growth for the United States.”

JetBlue, based at New York’s Kennedy airport, is among the carriers most hurt by airport and airspace constraints, and Barger says investment in NextGen would “enhance capacity and energy efficiency, thereby reducing recent record delays and congestion in our nation’s busiest airports….”

His best hopes may lie in the Senate, where NextGen funding is likely to emerge as a major issue. A Senate bill would allot $200 million for NextGen equipage and about $1 billion for airport funding. If it passes in that form, the Senate and the House would have to iron out their different funding levels and priorities, and that would be the opening for NextGen to get the funding Barger and others want.

US aerospace industry associations in December banded together and sent US legislators a request for $4 billion in funding for the stimulus, which allocated close to $3 billion to equip aircraft for use in NextGen and $1 billion for the Airport Improvement Programme (AIP). In both bill, the airport funds would be distributed solely at the FAA’s discretion and would not be subject to any of the agency’s usual formulas for airport grants such as set-asides for small airports.

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