By Vicki Needham
February 4, 2011
Several Democratic senators are urging Republicans to abandon their push to reduce the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) budget to 2008 levels, which they say would hamper the upgrading of the nation’s air traffic control systems and force layoffs.
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), sponsor of the FAA reauthorization under consideration on the Senate floor, as well as Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), wrote a letter to Kentucky Republican Sens. Rand Paul and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell expressing their opposition to an amendment that would slash the FAA’s budget.
“We share your concerns about our nation’s debt, and are willing to work with you in developing constructive solutions,” the letter says. “However, we will not accept any amendment that puts the safety of Americans at risk and hinders economic growth.”
Paul has offered an amendment to the FAA reauthorization that, if approved, would lead to “widespread layoffs and cancellation of improvement and safety-related projects across the country,” according to the letter.
In the letter, the lawmakers said those layoffs would affect hundreds of safety and maintenance workers and thus “would put the flying public at risk.”
A reduction in funds also could delay the implementation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), which the Democratic senators say “will reduce total flight delays by about 21 percent while providing $22 billion in cumulative benefits to the traveling public, aircraft operators and the FAA.”
NextGen would upgrade the ground-based World War II-era air traffic control system to a satellite-based system that can more accurately track airplanes on the ground and in the air.
Delays cost passengers $16.7 billion in 2007, according to the National Center of Excellence for Aviation Operations Research.
The FAA bill expired in 2007 and has gone through 17 short-term extensions.
Senate leaders have said they intend to move the bill quickly, with the intention of passing the measure the week of Feb. 14.
Source: THE HILL