FAA panel blames rising US aviation risk on ‘recurring gridlock’ in Congress

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A panel from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) blames the rising risks of flying on the “recurring gridlock” and politically motivated government shutdowns in Congress.

The FAA said incidents at the beginning of the year prompted a team to review its operations, finding “an increase in the most serious type of runway incursions.” In its report, the panel said many of the issues — including process integrity, staffing, facilities, equipment and technology — all stem from “inadequate or inconsistent funding.”

The report places blame on Congress for strings of government shutdowns and funding instability that make it harder for the FAA to do its job and “contribute to increased safety risks.”

“Recent Congresses have been plagued by recurring gridlock, which undermines the FAA’s ability to effectively perform its mission,” the report said.

The report outlined the funding troubles the administration has faced amid several government shutdowns.

The news comes as Congress barrels toward another government shutdown deadline on Nov. 17. A shutdown would coincide with several of the busiest travel days of the year, ahead of Thanksgiving. The House on Tuesday passed a continuing resolution that would put off the funding deadline into next year; the Senate is expected to vote on that bill soon.

“This stop-and-start process in Congress has resulted in the disruption of critical activities, notably including the hiring and training of air traffic controllers,” the report said. “It has also slowed down the implementation of key technology modernization programs, delayed thousands of flights, and held up billions of dollars of airport infrastructure investments.”

“This situation makes it extremely difficult for the FAA to effectively conduct long-term business planning and execution,” the FAA continued.

While Congress has increased the agency’s funding in recent years, the report notes that much of it has gone toward airport improvements and not necessarily toward flight safety.

The experts emphasized that aviation is still safe, but efficiency is suffering, increasing risks and making the system “unsustainable over the long-term.”

The panel recommends Congress remove the constraints imposed by budget caps for the Airport and Airway Trust Fund (AATF), update the funding sources for AATF to account for necessary changes and exempt the FAA from the operational effect of federal government shutdowns.

“These recommendations are essential to address needed funding levels and to avoid disruption of FAA operations,” the report said.

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