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“The question is not whether to charge new entrants, it’s how and how much” – RTCA webinar

“Funding is on everyone’s mind,” said Donna McLean Transportation and Government Finance Leader and Chair of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Management Advisory Committee (MAC), at the RTCA webinar on 26 October 2022. “It’s important to encourage new entrants, but under the present system existing aviation users are inherently subsidising the new.” As an example, the FAA budget allocation for commercial space in the current fiscal year is USD43 million. Yet a commercial space launch sometimes requires traditional flights to divert. “We need to consider that one part of the industry imposing costs on another.” The Uncrewed Aerial Systems (UAS) research FY22 budget request is USD170 million: “How should we pay for this: The question is how, and how much from the UAS and commercial space industries? ”

It is complicated and raises more questions than answers, she added, however we have to make some decisions so we have revenue even though they “may not be perfect first time”.

Terry McVenes RTCA President and CEO said it is incumbent on industry to help “narrow down the thinking and identify solutions”.  The FAA is providing the framework, the standards agency RTCA wants to set performance-based standards, however, there remains an urgent need to bring technology into the marketplace.

“We have to stop relying on today’s solutions for tomorrow,” said Donna McLean. “Aviation is no longer just about moving people and packages from A to B. Segmented airspace could mean something different in the future: We have Airbus developing space solar power; SpaceX is among hundreds of disruptive ideas; if we pay extra to use an express lane on the ground, can this apply to aviation in the future? We need to challenge our default settings.”

Both speakers also underlined the value of safety. “We forget in aviation how installed safety culture is within us,” said Donna McLean. This means, anytime aviation intersects with another industry, we need to remember how we got here.” Reminding people, and Congress, there has been no commercial accident in 12 years is a good starting point, “but it can change in a heartbeat”. This communications piece played out when the US telecommunications industry launched 5G, potentially affecting aviation spectrum availability.

“The lines between aviation and other industries are blurring,” said Terry McVenes. “It is important to communicate in the development phase and understand each others’ requirements. This is starting to happen through the RTCA’s new committee on spectrum issues.” He believes this could extend further, for example breaking down silo mentality within government institutions.

Donna McLean served as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Chief Financial Officer and is an expert in federal budgetary treatment.

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