Aviation groups like Obama's budget

Aviation trade organizations say the president's budget is good for general aviation.

The budget strengthens the effort to modernize the nation's aviation system and preserves funding for small and midsize airports without imposing "new, onerous" user fees, the National Business Aviation Association said.

The budget will take time to analyze, the trade groups say, but so far, they're encouraged.

"It demonstrates a commitment to maintaining a national network of airports of all sizes across the country and increases funding for the transition to a Next Generation (NextGen) air transportation system while relying on the proven and efficient fuel tax instead of user fees," NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen said in a statement.

President Obama's fiscal 2012 budget also preserves funding for smaller airports through the Airport Improvement Program. The program provides federal matching funds to improve infrastructure, such as runway resurfacing, taxiway construction and airport lighting. The funding has been cut, however, from $3.5 billion to $2.4 billion. Those cuts are to come from large and medium hub airports rather than the smaller commercial and general aviation airports that do not have other means of raising outside capital, the Airport Owners and Pilots Association said. The budget frees the larger airports to raise passenger facility charges to generate additional revenue.

The budget sets aside $1.1 billion for the transition to the Next Generation air traffic control system, which replaces a radar-type system with a satellite one. The funding is up from 2010 levels of $347 million. The budget includes money to accelerate research, advance development and to put in place engineering work for NextGen technologies, applications and procedures and to upgrade FAA infrastructure, such as power systems and air traffic control centers.

The budget, however, doesn't include the availability of low-interest loans to help operators of general aviation aircraft equip their planes for the NextGen system, the NBAA said.

"The budget specifies that a National Infrastructure Bank will guarantee private loans to help airlines purchase equipment in support of NextGen," AOPA vice president for legislative affairs Lorraine Howerton said in a statement. "Unfortunately, it does not say anything about providing similar assistance to general aviation operators."

The Aerospace Industries Association hailed the assistance for airlines, however.

"This will help address one of the larger challenges facing the full implementation of NextGen — establishing a sound business case for equipping airlines with upgraded avionics systems," the AIA said. "Without the cockpit infrastructure component, there is no NextGen."

The budget comes as Congress works to reauthorize legislation to fund the Federal Aviation Administration. Last week, the Senate Finance Committee approved its version of FAA reauthorization legislation. The full Senate is expected to take up the bill this week.

The bill would increase taxes on Jet-A fuel rather than impose user fees to help fund the air transportation system modernization.