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Aviation industry seeks inclusion in US jobs initiative


Since it was overlooked for stimulus spending earlier this year, the industry has been stung by the fact that while Washington talks about jobs creation, it has not been allowed to participate. Now that President Obama is focusing on a new jobs effort – including a jobs summit held with US industry leaders last week, aviation interests are getting their bid in early. Indeed, one of the reasons aviation was almost entirely left out of the stimulus funding was it came too late to the party.

Aviation leaders from every alphabet soup group signed a letter, saying infrastructure investment – specifically NextGen – would create 167,000 jobs for only USD6.7 billion for both equipage and procedures. When it made its failed bid last winter, the airline industry was asking for $4 billion to pay for aircraft equipage to take advantage of NextGen technologies being rolled out. At the time, it estimated that equipage – mainly avionics – would general 70,000 jobs. At the time, some Congressional wags, responding to criticism they ignored a vital piece of the economy in the stimulus bill, noted the airline industry received massive government expenditures to keep the industry afloat in the wake of 9/11. Even so, most legacy carriers had to restructure through bankruptcy to survive.

In a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader John Boehner, 13 airline presidents told Congress the investment would not only jump start job creation but would benefit the economy by increasing efficiencies in the air traffic control system which would general more economic benefit to the US economy beyond the USD1.2 trillion that industry already contributes.

“As Congress assembles legislation designed to spur job growth through investments in critical infrastructure, federal funding for accelerated deployment of the next-generation air traffic control (ATC) system – NowGen – is essential,” said the airline presidents in their letter. “Funding NowGen will drive domestic jobs creation across all sectors and the nation’s economic recovery, while ensuring our ability to compete effectively in the global marketplace. Implementing NowGen should be a national priority.”

The team said the 167,000 jobs would be created through 2012. “NowGen deployment will employ thousands of engineers, software developers and other high-tech workers to support a transition from our outdated ground-based radar platform to an efficient satellite-based aviation infrastructure,” they said. “In addition, airline employees, aviation maintenance workers, the travel and tourism industry, shippers and many small businesses, including maintenance and repair stations, will benefit from installation of equipment in aircraft, reduced costs and more efficient air transportation. 

“Particularly in today’s troubled economy, NowGen will reduce the $40 billion of lost time and productivity from congestion and flight delays caused by our inefficient ATC system, while enhancing aviation safety and reducing fuel burn/carbon emissions,” they continued. “Finally, it enables the US airline and aerospace industries to remain world leaders as other nations look to our development and deployment of innovative technologies and procedures, ensuring jobs retention and growth.”

In a similar effort aerospace industry manufacturing and user groups penned a letter to the chair and ranking member of the House Committee on Transportation House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and Infrastructure James Oberstar and John Mica, respectively. The letter, citing many of the same benefits, asked that they push for aviation inclusion in any jobs package.

They pointed to the December 3rd summit – the Forum on Jobs and Economic Growth – in saying: “Congress should seize this opportunity to expedite NextGen capabilities and to provide a platform for domestic job creation thereby ensuring that the civil aviation and travel industries — which directly and indirectly generate over ten million jobs and $1.2 trillion in economic activity annually — can continue to positively contribute to growth in the domestic economy.”

The group also cited the many shocks the industry has sustained since 2001 including a massive spike in oil prices and the current economic downturn. “Since 2000, passenger carriers have shed almost 155,000 jobs, bringing us to our 1993 levels of employment,” they said in the letter. “Manufacturers have sustained significant job losses and a slowdown in orders, deliveries, and production schedules. General aviation (GA) flying has decreased by as much as 35%. The inventory of used GA airplanes available for sale reached an all-time high. Prices for GA airplanes have declined by 40% and employment at leading general aviation companies has fallen by as much as 50%. In this context and as the House moves forward in developing a jobs bill, we urge you to add funding for our nation’s aviation air infrastructure. The public benefits of accelerated NextGen are numerous and widely agreed upon: improved safety, job creation and retention, shorter flight times, reduced delays, and significant environmental benefits, including fewer carbon emissions, and less noise and improved local air quality.”

Just as the business aviation industry reminded legislators earlier this year when all aviation heard out of Washington was inflammatory criticism about business jets, the group reiterated the fact that the US  aerospace industry provides a significant positive contribution to the trade balance. It also noted technological challenges in air traffic management were coming from the European Union, Australia and Canada, which are outpacing us in implementing NextGen.

“Other countries, like China and India, will look to either the US or Europe for leadership as they develop their air traffic control system,” they said. “If the US does not demonstrate leadership in deploying these technologies, opportunities for US manufacturers and workers will be lost.”

Aviation in the Forefront of “Green” Initiatives

President Obama, in addressing environmental issues last week, meanwhile noted emissions reduction that would result in aviation infrastructure investments, and the group jumped on that. “Accelerated NextGen implementation also has the potential to put aviation at the forefront of ―green initiatives,” they said. “The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has indicated that implementation of NextGen would reduce carbon emissions by up to 12%. This reduction in CO2 production is roughly equivalent to taking 2.2 million cars off the road for one year. In fact, a May 2008 GAO report recommended that NextGen technologies and procedures be deployed ―as soon as practicable to realize these environmental benefits.”

The group concluded by saying: “Expedited NextGen investment will eliminate a significant drag on the nation’s economy and transform aviation into a powerful job creator in the near-term. With a commitment to fund expedited NextGen, we can provide a short-term economic boost, and also provide the infrastructure which will lead to long-term efficiencies and economic growth.”

Signatories include AirTran Airways Chair, President and CEO Robert L. Fornaro; Alaska Airlines, Inc Chair and CEO Alaska Airlines, Inc Bill Ayer; American Airlines, Inc Chair, President and CEO Gerard J. Arpey; Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, Inc. President and CEO William J. Flynn; Continental Airlines, Inc. Chair and CEO Lawrence W. Kellner; Delta Air Lines, Inc. CEO Richard Anderson; FedEx Express President and CEO Dave Bronczek; JetBlue Airways Corporation President and CEO Dave Barger; Hawaiian Airlines, Inc. President and CEO Mark B. Dunkerley; Southwest Airlines Co. Chair, President and CEO Gary Kelly; United Airlines, Inc. Chair and CEO Glenn F. Tilton; UPS Airlines President David Abney; as well as US Airways Group, Inc. Chair and CEO Douglas Parker.

Associations include: Aeronautical Repair Station Association; Aerospace Industries Association; Air Carrier Association of America; Air Transport Association; Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association; American Society of Travel Agents; Cargo Airline Association; General Aviation Manufacturers Association; Helicopter Association International; Interactive Travel Services Association; International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; International Brotherhood of Teamsters; National Air Carrier Association; National Air Transportation Association; National Association of Manufacturers; National Business Aviation Association, Inc.; National Business Travel Association; Regional Airline Association and the US Travel Association.

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