In a speech given yesterday to the Department of Transportation, President Bush stated that in:

an age when teenage drivers use GPS systems in their cars, air traffic controllers still use World War II-era radar to guide modern jumbo jets.  That doesn’t seem to make any sense to me, and I know it doesn’t make sense to the Secretary [of Transportation] and a lot of folks in this audience. Modernizing our aviation system is an urgent challenge.  So today, I’m signing an executive order that makes this task a leading priority for agencies across the federal government.

Since implementation and funding for the "Next Generation Air Transportation System" (NextGen) is contained in the FAA Reauthorization bill, which is stalled in Congress over issues like Acting FAA Administrator Bobby Sturgell’s appointment to a full term, the East Coast Airspace Redesign, and Climate Change, Pres. Bush sought to take matters into his own hands by issuing an Executive Order.

The Fact Sheet that accompanied Pres. Bush’s speech, claims that the Executive Order

. . . strengthens DOT’s coordination with other Federal agencies. The EO will help transform the national air transportation system and effectively implement the NextGen Initiative (Next Generation Air Transportation System) that utilizes satellite-based guidance technology, which is safer, more secure, affordable, and environmentally friendly.

Although the Executive Order does set up a "Senior Policy Committee," and involves the Secretaries of Defense, Commerce and Homeland Security as well as the Secretary of Transportation, the Executive Order seems to be toothless without funding, which can only be supplied (to the extent that NextGen requires it) by Congress.  In essence, the Executive Order simply states that the Secretary of Transportation will take appropriate action to implement NextGen (as stated in Section 709 of Vision 100-Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act) and recommend action for the President to take.

As reported by AvWebBiz, according to Doug Church, spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, "[The executive order] certainly appears like yet another new red bow on the same old box, which remains empty. Is the administration now saying modernizing our aviation system was NOT a leading priority up until today?"

President Bush also addressed several other aviation topics in speech:

  • Mentioned that the FAA will "start auctioning takeoff and landing slots at New York airports"in January, thus siding with the FAA over the GAO in the intra-governmental spat;
  • Suggested giving airlines incentives to "boost efficiency" and encourage them to use larger planes out of the New York area.
  • Mentioned that three new runways would be opening up this week at Seattle-Tacoma, Washington-Dulles, and Chicago O’Hare.
  • Completion of regulations that provide increased protection for consumers, specifically a measure that will require airlines to provide greater compensation for lost bags as well as tougher penalties when airlines fail to notify travelers of hidden fees.

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