Senate to Revive Long-Stalled FAA Bill to Modernize Air Traffic System
March 5, 2010
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  • Dave Michaels/Reporter

    Senate leaders said Wednesday they would bring up the long-stalled FAA reauthorization legislation in the next five weeks. Majority Leader Harry Reid characterized the legislation as a bill that would “create thousands and thousands of jobs and it will make our air travel and our surface transportation travel safer.”

    The House passed its version of FAA reauthorization last year. The House bill is considered more controversial because it includes a provision that would make it easier for FedEx workers to unionize. It also includes a provision that would require the FAA to inspect foreign repair stations twice a year, a measure opposed by European carriers. The guts of the Senate bill is less controversial, and was approved by the Commerce committee in September. It then got stalled behind other legislative priorities, including the healthcare legislation and jobs bills.

    The legislation is loaded with elements that affect the oversight of airlines, background checks for pilots, and protections for passengers stranded on tarmacs. But the headline is modernization of the air-traffic system and how long it will take. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., inserted a provision in the legislation that requires all aircraft to be equipped with the necessary avionics equipment by 2018, instead of the previous target date of 2025. Carriers are worried about the pace of “equipage,” but at a speech in Washington on Wednesday, Dorgan suggested it could be done. “If you ask the FAA how long it will take, they will say, ‘oh, 2095,'” he joked. “It shouldn’t take that long. This ought to be an urgent national priority. Number one, it will create jobs. Number two, it will substantially improve margins of safety in the sky.”

    The Senate bill doesn’t address the mix of excise and ticket taxes that funds most of the aviation system. The Commerce Committee left that out, because it is within the jurisdiction of the Senate Finance Committee. A Republican aide says the financing provisions aren’t likely to be controversial this time, and that the Finance Committee should have time to pass a measure that takes care of taxes and fees. That piece would then be added to the Commerce Committee’s bill and make its way to the floor.

    Date: 2010-02-24