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Modernizing Our Air Traffic Control System
by: Sen. Trent Lott       Filed 5/10/07 GCN

        Most Americans fly at least once a year.  Flying is no longer the novelty it was in the ‘50s and ‘60s when folks went to the airport just to watch planes, and passengers dressed up for a long-anticipated flight.  Air travel now is an ingrained, sometimes mundane part of everyday American life – so much so, that we face gridlock in the skies within the next eight years unless we modernize our airports.

I know what you’re thinking:  We already have something close to gridlock at our nation’s large hubs.  All southern fliers have circled Atlanta waiting to land, and it could get worse.  What’s more, with all the security measures necessary today, there’s little leeway to avert more airport delays.

As the ranking member of the Senate’s Aviation Subcommittee, I’m joining in introducing legislation to modernize our aviation infrastructure, particularly our aging air traffic control system.

Experts say the current air traffic control system no longer is capable of handling the growing demand of passengers and cargo.  In fact, if it’s not replaced by 2015, America’s air traffic control situation will be untenable.

My subcommittee is putting forward a bipartisan Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill that includes a $25 surcharge on so-called “high end” general and commercial aviation.  This fee won’t raise your ticket prices, but it will generate about $1.6 billion during the next four years, exclusively dedicated to modernizing America’s air traffic control centers.

I’ve worked on every FAA reauthorization bill since 2000.  Seven years ago, Congress saw the looming air traffic control crisis and created an office to coordinate this modernization effort, the Joint Planning and Development Office.  Now with the funding source in place, I hope we finally can get to work on solving the gridlock problem.  That modernization effort is the single most important part of this bill which sets aviation policy and funding for the next four years. 

A lot of folks who own their own planes or who are involved with general aviation are saying the surcharge for upgrades is unfair to them.  What they’re not saying is this:  Piston-engine aircraft – the kind you predominantly find throughout Mississippi’s small airports – are totally exempt from the surcharge, as are all emergency aircraft.

If you have a crop duster or a small private plane – of the type which comprises 90 percent of America’s general aviation fleet – you don’t have to pay the surcharge. 

If you own a jet or larger turbo-prop aircraft, the surcharge will apply, but you can deduct it as a business expense.  To individuals and companies fortunate enough to own these planes, a $25 fee is comparatively minuscule, especially considering that the average per hour cost of operating a turbo prop is $802, while the cost of operating a private jet is $3,605.  The average purchase prices for these aircraft are $8 million and $40 million, respectively. 

To accommodate small regional airports like ours in Mississippi, the subcommittee bill continues the 95 percent federal match for all federal funding initiatives targeted at small airports.  It continues the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) at the same levels for all general aviation airports. This flexible AIP program has helped Mississippi airports build new runways, taxiways, terminals, and to buy equipment needed for safer takeoffs and landings.

American aviation today is an everyday necessity critical to our economy, and it is poised to grow even more important.  Replacement of our outdated air traffic control system is vital to that growth and no longer can be deferred.

Senator Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column. 

Write to: U.S. Senator Trent Lott, 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (Attn: Press Office) or Email

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