The Congress created the Commission after congressional and industry debates on several aviation issues for which there was no consensus. The FAA argued that its needs would not be met if federal budget trends continued. Most of the aviation industry argued that the aviation taxes should be dedicated for FAA programs. Some airlines argued that a new revenue system should be developed to better reflect the costs imposed on the aviation system by its users. Other airlines felt that the ticket tax was fair, easy to implement, and thus should not be altered. It was clear that the industry would not come to a consensus on these issues on their own. The Congress created this Commission, which includes representatives from the various segments the aviation community, as well as individuals outside of aviation, to discuss and identify problems in the aviation system and to provide recommendations on improving the current situation.
The Federal Aviation Reauthorization Act of 1996 created the Commission with two task forces: the Aviation Funding Task Force and the Safety Task Force. This report covers the findings and recommendations of the Commission's funding task force. In general, the Commission's funding task force was created to make recommendations on the FAA's needs, the revenues needed to support the FAA, potential cost savings, and ways to improve the FAA's attempts to modernize its equipment. The legislation specifically states that the Commission's report shall include a draft bill containing the changes in law necessary to implement its recommendations.
The Commission is comprised of 21 members: 13 appointed by the Secretary of Transportation, 2 appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, 2 appointed by the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, 2 appointed by the Majority Leader of the Senate, and 2 by the Minority Leader of the Senate. Commission members are experts in a variety of subjects including aircraft manufacturing, airline operations, airport management, financial management, general aviation services, and overall aviation industry issues. All Commission members are part of the funding task force. In addition to the 21 Commissioners, the Executive Branch provided representatives from relevant departments and agencies to attend and, in some cases, participate in the Commission meetings.
Former U.S. Representative Norman Y. Mineta was appointed the Chair of the Commission and convened the first meeting on April 28, 1997. This meeting was the first in a series of Commission briefings. Over the course of several meetings, the Commissioners were briefed by the Department of Transportation (DOT), the FAA, industry officials, and others on a variety of topics, including: the FAA's budget process, concerns of various congressional committees, the FAA's needs, airline concerns, airport needs, general aviation needs and concerns, the views of air traffic controllers, reviews by the General Accounting Office, concerns of the U.S. military, the experience of NavCanada (the recently privatized air traffic control system in Canada), and the implementation of performance fees by the Food and Drug Administration. The Commission also held a public hearing on May 28, 1997 which included witnesses from many aviation interest groups. (A complete list of the witnesses is in Attachment 5). In addition to the briefings, the Commissioners met at length to discuss various aviation issues and to discuss potential recommendations.
As the Commission debated various aviation financial issues, the Congress also debated and acted upon aviation revenue issues as part of a larger multi-year budget agreement. The congressional debate and action underscored for the Commission the very serious flaws in the budget process for aviation.
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