The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Friday to allow the Federal Aviation Administration to move about $253 million form airport improvement funds to the air traffic control system. Cynics came out of the wood works, some claiming that Congress’ main motivation was to ensure that its members were not joining other consumers in long lines waiting for flights delayed in part by a lack of proper staffing in air traffic control towers.
Given Congress’ less than stellar reputation for getting much of anything done legislatively, the relatively rapid pace by which it was able to muster the 361-41 vote to move around funds in the budget bucket left itself open to scorn.
I look at the vote first as a safety issue. The last thing we need to see in the near term is a tragic event resulting from poor handing off of flights from zone to zone during an air route, especially on the heels of the two tragic events of Boston and West, Texas.
Second, I look at this vote as Congress carrying out one of its primary duties: regulating commerce. We tend to overlook that wording explicitly spelled out in the U.S. Constitution. Air transport plays an integral role in trade, in the movement of goods and services. According to a report by Boeing, global air cargo traffic has increased an average of 3.7% per year between 2001 and 2011. Global air cargo traffic is forecast to increase an average of 5.2% per year between 2011 and 2031.
Freighter aircraft, according to Boeing, is used to move in-progress manufacturing items between production facilities. As economic activity as measured by gross domestic product increases, so to will air cargo traffic. In North America the last couple years have not been kind to air cargo traffic. Declines in industrial production and higher unemployment in the United States has taken its toll on air cargo traffic. Within North America, air cargo traffic fell on average 1.5% per year between 2001 and 2011, but is expected to increase 2.3% per year between 2011 and 2031.
By approving the movement of funds between FAA activities, Congress may have taken a small but important step toward removing impediments that may have thrown the economy off from achieving these growth forecasts and keeping a steady flow of commerce through our airways.
Kudos to Congress for once …