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The U.S. Senate by an 87-8 vote last week approved a $34.5
billion, two-year Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill. The
U.S. House of Representatives' Transportation and Infrastructure Committee
previously approved a four-year, $59.7 billion FAA bill that now awaits a vote
by the full House. If the House version is approved, it would need to be
reconciled with the Senate version, which has many similarities but also a few
key differences. Congress has extended the existing FAA reauthorization bill 17
times, with the most recent extension set to expire March 31.
Within the Senate bill, lawmakers sought to "establish
clear deadlines" for implementing the Next Generation air traffic control
system—at the busiest 35 airports by 2014, and for the entire national airspace
system by 2018. The Senate bill also would create an oversight board for FAA's
modernization programs and a "Chief NextGen Officer" at FAA to
oversee implementation of and provide greater accountability for all NextGen
programs. It sets aside for air traffic control equipment the first $500
million collected each year from aviation taxes "derived from the Air
Traffic Control System Modernization Account of the Airport and Airways Trust
"The bill will support thousands of jobs, strengthen
airline safety and modernize America's outdated air traffic control
system," according to a statement attributed to Senate Commerce, Science
and Transportation Committee chairman John Rockefeller (D-W. Va.).
Approved by the House Transportation Committee by a vote of
34 to 25, the House version also addresses NextGen ATC by providing funding and
calling for streamlined development processes. Like the Senate bill, the House
bill would set implementation deadlines and also establish "metrics for
better measurement of NextGen progress and to ensure more effective cost
management," according to the House Transportation Committee, which claimed
its bill would create and protect more than 600,000 jobs during the next four
The House bill also would require the FAA administrator
"to identify significant cost savings without cutting any safety-critical
activities," according to House Transportation Committee chairman John
Mica (R-Fla.), adding that the legislation would provide "approximately $4
billion in savings compared to current funding levels."
"The federal government must do more with less,"
Mica continued, "and this bill does just that by requiring the FAA to
identify savings in a manner that does not negatively impact aviation safety.
Our aviation system is critical to the U.S. economy, and this bill ensures that
the nation's aviation industry remains vital and competitive."
The House and Senate versions of a new FAA reauthorization
present some differences for lawmakers to overcome. For example, the House bill
would phase out funding for the Essential Air Service Program—which guarantees
a minimum level of air service for smaller communities—by cutting $400 million
over four years. By contrast, the Senate bill would allocate $200 million to
the Essential Air Service Program, "allowing communities greater
flexibility in attracting desired air service," according to Rockefeller.
The Senate bill permits "new financial incentives in contracts with EAS
carriers, allows for longer-term contracts, and allows for development
incentives for large airlines to code share on service to small
"Thankfully, we fought off efforts by some to cut back
on rural air service," Rockefeller added, noting how such service benefits
his state. "Although we must and will reduce the deficit, haphazard cuts
will compromise the safety and growth of our aviation system. I hope we can
work with the House to get a bill to the President's desk quickly."
Meanwhile, the Senate bill calls for adding 16 daily takeoff
and landing slots at Washington Reagan National Airport while the House version
calls for 10.
Notwithstanding the differences, the two bills agree in many
respects. Despite, for example, suggestions from the Obama administration that
airport passenger facility charges could be increased to offset cuts in federal
monies allocated to airport projects, both the Senate and the House versions of
the FAA reauthorization would maintain the cap at $4.50 per flight.
Additionally, both bills would require airlines within 180
days of enactment to publish on their websites updated lists of
"chronically" delayed and canceled flights, including the on-time
performance and cancellation rates of such flights.
The Senate bill also addresses such passenger rights issues
as lengthy tarmac delays and improper use of airport full-body scanner images.
It also would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue a
rulemaking to compel carriers to publicly disclose a complete list of optional service fees, including those for checked baggage, meals and beverages,
exit-row seating and ticket purchases completed through "an airline ticket
agent or a travel agency."
Meanwhile, the House bill omits several controversial items,
including a provision for grants of antitrust immunity between carriers to expire within three years and a ban on inflight cell phone use. According to
Mica, those items, as well as a provision that would have allowed easier
unionization by FedEx workers also excluded from the House bill, in the past
"have stopped previous FAA bills from moving forward and becoming
"The last reauthorization was in 2003, and that expired
in 2007," according to House aviation subcommittee chairman Tom Petri
(R-Wis.) "That's no way to run a vital federal agency. Getting this bill
enacted into law will provide needed certainty and consistent funding for more
efficient and effective investment. We are in a difficult budget environment
and can't do everything we want to right now, but we need to get on with the
things we can and must do."
A statement from Global Business Travel Association
executive director Mike McCormick urged the House "to quickly reach
consensus in conference committee."