U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo was tapped Wednesday to head the House Aviation Subcommittee, a role that could boost his influence over South Jersey’s aviation economy.
Following the appointment Wednesday morning, LoBiondo, R-2nd, said he was thrilled and vowed to highlight the work being done at the FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township.
“Chairing the aviation committee obviously has a great responsibility for all of the FAA and all of aviation nationally,” LoBiondo said in a phone interview. “I’ve said repeatedly that our tech center is a premier site ... and for whatever reason they’ve been underrecognized and underappreciated. Hopefully, I'll have the opportunity to highlight their great work, which can only mean good things for the region.”
Since 1997, LoBiondo has been a member of the subcommittee, which is responsible for oversight of civil aviation policy, labor, commerce, safety and security, unmanned aircraft systems, and the majority of the FAA’s programs, including the implementation of the NextGen Air Transportation System. NextGen concepts are tested and developed at the Egg Harbor Township facility.
LoBiondo said there’s no doubt that NextGen will continue to be a priority, but he could not yet speak to specifics on anticipated funding streams.
NextGen refers to a series of concepts that will produce efficiencies in air travel as the system is transformed from radar-based to satellite-based. In 2011, the FAA announced $7 billion for NextGen contractors over 10 years, but to date only a fraction of that funding has been released.
“There’s kind of mixed news here. The financial challenges that our nation faces are going to affect everybody,” LoBiondo said. “However, I do have strong assurances from (U.S. Secretary of Transportation) Ray LaHood ... that the Obama administration has named the NextGen project as a continued top priority for the nation.”
Locally, leaders applauded the appointment, saying that LoBiondo’s long standing knowledge of the needs of the aviation industry will benefit the region.
South Jersey Transportation Authority acting Executive Director Sam Donelson said the appointment bodes well for the Atlantic City International Airport, located on the tech center’s campus. Leaders have argued that the airport has the ability to be an alternative to nearby congested airports, but has struggled to retain carriers.
“He will be able to weigh in on the congested air space that is surrounding South Jersey. Ultimately, we’re looking to convince airlines that this is a more economical location to fly out of,” Donelson said. “With his leadership we would hopefully be able to get across the point of the excess air space capacity we have in Atlantic City, which should help to boost the utilization of our air space.”
Ron Esposito, executive director of the NextGen Aviation Research and Technology Park planned on the tech center’s campus, also said he was pleased by the appointment.
“It’s absolutely a great selection and great news for us. The congressman has led the charge with the park from the beginning and understands the vision,” Esposito said.
About 4,500 people work on the FAA tech center’s campus, which includes the tech center itself, the New Jersey Air National Guard’s 177th Fighter Wing, the federal Transportation Security Laboratory, the federal Air Marshal Training Center, and Atlantic City International Airport. Of the total, about 1,500 are FAA employees, 1,500 are FAA contractors, and the remaining 1,500 are employed by the other entities on the campus.
Wilson Felder retired as director of the tech center in November after nearly seven years in the post. His replacement has not yet been named, but LoBiondo said his discussions with FAA Administrator Michael Huerta have indicated that a decision is near.
“They are reviewing the final applications. I don’ t know whether it will be a day, a week, or a month, but they are very close to a decision,” he said.
National organizations, including the trade organization Airlines for America, also expressed approval of the appointment Wednesday. National Air Transportation Association President and CEO Thomas Hendricks issued a statement calling LoBiondo a knowledgeable leader, whose work has reflected the best interests of the aviation community.
LoBiondo said it was too soon to discuss the subcommittee’s priorities and agenda for the coming year. Congress is in the midst of reorganization, and all of the members of the subcommittee have not yet been named. The subcommittee falls under the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, whose chairman U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., made the appointment.
Contact Jennifer Bogdan:
Follow @ACPressJennifer on Twitter