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Key Issues for Reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration

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On February 11, 2009, the Inspector General testified before the House Subcommittee on Aviation on key issues regarding FAA reauthorization. FAA does not have a long–term authorization or funding mechanism in place and has been operating on a short–term extension since September, which expires next month. However, the aviation environment has changed significantly since Congress last debated proposals for reauthorizing and financing FAA. The current economic crisis and volatile fuel costs have forced many airlines to make major service cuts, although load factors remain high. The decline in traffic has also impacted the Aviation Trust Fund, the largest source of revenue for FAA’s $15 billion annual budget. Notwithstanding the uncertainties facing the industry, this situation provides FAA with opportunities to focus on key challenges it must address to be strategically positioned for an industry rebound. The Inspector General noted four overarching areas that need to be at the center of FAA’s efforts over the next several years: (1) maintaining public confidence in FAA’s ability to provide oversight of a dynamic industry, (2) setting expectations and budget priorities for NextGen, (3) bolstering key safety workforces, and (4) financing future airport development while facing unstable long–term airport funding mechanisms.