The White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security, being led by vice-president Al Gore, has come out in favour of replacing the US ticket tax with user charges as the best way to fund the new satellite-based National Airspace System (NAS), which it says should be brought in seven years ahead of plan. The Commission also set a primary goal of reducing accidents by a factor of five within ten years.

The Commission, formed following the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800, criticises the 10%federal-airline ticket tax as making "little direct connection" between users and US Federal Aviation Administration services. Instead, it favours a user charge, but notes that this should avoid "undue economic hardship within any segment of the industry".

Although the concept of a user charge has won backing from the major US network, it has already raised loud complaints from the country's general-aviation community and low-cost carriers, which believe that they will be burdened with hefty cost increases.

The report says that the task of devising a new funding-system charge should go to a National Civil Aviation Review Commission, which it expects to be set up "in the very near future".

The new funding is part of a wider recommendation on bringing in new communication, navigation and surveillance/air- traffic- management concepts. The existing NAS plan has outlined the introduction of new satellite-based systems by 2012, but the commission says that this should be accelerated "-to achieve full operational capability by the year 2005". It urges the FAA to draw up a revised NAS scheme within the next six months.

On broader issues of safety and security, the FAA is urged to step up moves towards continuous safety improvements and calls on NASA to join in the effort .

As a reaction to growing concerns over aviation-security issues, there are also recommendations that the Government commits $100 million per year in capital spending to the area. Mandatory matching of checked baggage with passengers - an idea which the airline industry has resisted as too costly and time-consuming - was dropped from the final report.

Among other recommendations are widespread installation of enhanced ground-proximity warning systems and expansion of the ageing-aircraft inspection programme beyond structural components. The Transportation Secretary is asked to report publicly each year on progress to the Commission's goals.

Source: Flight International