And you thought the battle over user fees was volatile before. With Thursday’s passage of the House version of the FAA Reauthorization Bill by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, comes the potential for renewed confrontation between general aviation pilots, the FAA, and air traffic controllers.
As ANN reported, lawmakers voted to add two amendments during Thursday’s drafting session for H.R. 2881. One of those additions, dubbed the Costello Amendment, would roll back the contract the FAA imposed on controllers in 2006, after both sides declared an impasse in contract talks.
Under the House plan, both sides would once again be sent back to the bargaining table for 45 days. If (when?) those talks failed to produce results, both sides would go before binding arbitration.
In the interim, the bill would also revert the controllers’ contract to the more lucrative terms they enjoyed under a deal reached in 1998, according to the Washington Post.
And therein lies the problem. Despite the support controllers have in the House, many lawmakers fear the rollback provision would throw open the doors to other federal workers, protesting their own pay and benefits.
Moments after the committee’s 53 to 16 vote on the measure, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters issued a statement, reminding all parties the White House has already threatened to veto any bill that rolls back controller pay.
Peters also said the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association had been in talks for the past 12 days, but the union rejected the FAA package she said offered controllers “a substantial financial settlement.”
NATCA President Patrick Forrey called the House measure an “important step toward putting fairness back into the collective bargaining process.”
“The FAA unilaterally imposed work and pay rules on controllers last Labor Day weekend, exacerbating a critical staffing shortage that even the Department of Transportation Inspector General validated in a recent report,” Forrey added. “Morale has suffered, and the mass exodus has left controllers working for longer periods of time, causing fatigue and loss of focus, which the NTSB has said is a major safety concern.”
Several GA groups hailed the House bill, which calls for increased charges for airman certification and aircraft registration, as well as a bump in fuel taxes. What it doesn’t include are new “user fees,” as proposed by the FAA… and that’s what has the letter groups happy.
The bill now faces additional scrutiny in the House, where it’s likely to undergo a series of changes before coming to a full vote next month. And then there’s the process of integrating the House measure with the Senate’s proposal.
Even then, proponents warn, the measure could be killed by a presidential veto. In the words of Florida Representative John Mica, the committee’s ranking Republican member, the contract amendment is a “showstopper.”
“It’s the poison pill that can kill FAA reauthorization,” he added.