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The funding proposal was virtually unchanged from the
preliminary budget the new administration floated in February.
The budget adheres to the operating and capital levels
authorized in the Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st
Century, also known as AIR-21.
The law "firewalls" certain funds from the general budget and
earmarks them for improvements and maintenance of the aviation
During a press conference at DOT headquarters, Transportation
Secretary Norman Mineta noted that reducing air traffic delays is
one of his department's priorities.
"In the year 2000, about 700 million passengers flew in the
U.S., a nearly 43% increase in nine years," Mineta said. "By 2010,
that figure is expected to reach 1 billion passengers. We are
aggressively working to find solutions to meet that increasing
demand and to expand air service capacity."
For instance, Mineta said, the budget includes $245 million for
investment in so-called Intelligent Transportation Systems,
computer systems that would help manage air traffic.
Mineta also wants to increase the DOT policy staff to help
address aviation issues, such as those arising from the proposed
merger of United Airlines and US Airways.
"I am not sure that we are properly staffed to make
recommendations" on the merger, Mineta said. "I need additional
staff; I need some good policy people."
Similarly, Mineta said, staff is needed to help continue
negotiating Open Skies treaties with other nations.
The administration's budget still has to be approved by
Congress, where some members have expressed concerns over cuts
affecting other government agencies and the proposed $1 trillion