By Aaron Karp
The US Senate late Thursday passed a two-year, $34.5 billion FAA reauthorization bill by an 87-8 vote, and now waits on the House of Representatives to act on the proposed four-year, $59.7 billion bill approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday (ATW Daily News, Feb. 18).
Both the Senate and House are endeavoring to reach a consensus on and pass unified FAA reauthorization legislation to be sent to President Barack Obama for signature into law before the agency’s latest temporary funding extension expires on March 31. Congress has passed 17 short-term extensions since FAA’s authorization officially expired on Sept. 30, 2007.
The Senate-passed bill “reforms the aviation industry in a way that will help Americans from all walks of life,” Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said. “The bill will support thousands of jobs, strengthen airline safety, and modernize America’s outdated air traffic control system. It offers benefits to both rural airports and large urban airports.”
The legislation would establish “clear deadlines for the adoption” of the satellite-based NextGen ATC system, according to a joint statement by Rockefeller and Commerce, Science and Transportation Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas). It would mandate development of RNP and RNAV procedures at the busiest 35 US airports by 2014 and for the entire National Airspace System by 2018.
It would direct FAA “to accelerate planned timelines for integrating Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast technology into the NAS” and create an “Air Traffic Control Modernization Oversight Board” to provide “better oversight of FAA’s modernization programs,” the senators said. It would also establish a “Chief NextGen Officer” position at FAA “to oversee implementation of all NextGen programs and provide greater accountability over the modernization process.” But the Senate bill does not contain funding for equipping airlines’ fleets with expensive ADS-B technology.
The US Air Transport Assn. praised the Senate for passing the bill, asserting it “will help create jobs and modernize the air traffic control system.” President and CEO Nicholas Calio stated, “We applaud the leadership and significant work to pass a bill that reflects a continued commitment to safety and modernization of the air traffic control system by requiring that FAA establish and track performance metrics.”
Airports Council International-North America said the Senate bill will assure adequate funding for airport construction projects via the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program. “Airports are pleased that the Senate FAA reauthorization bill recognizes the importance of investing in airport infrastructure which ensures passenger safety, security and airfield maintenance,” the organization stated.
Key to passing the bill was a compromise on beyond-perimeter flights at Washington National Airport, where currently only 12 daily flights beyond 1,250 mi. are allowed. The Senate bill calls for adding 16 more daily beyond-perimeter flights, including five that would go to airlines that currently have little or no presence at DCA.
Senators from western US states generally favor more flights beyond the perimeter while those representing Maryland and Virginia oppose more traffic at DCA – both because of concerns about noise at the airport located just across the Potomac River from Washington in northern Virginia, and because of fears that more flights at DCA would mean less business for Washington Dulles and Baltimore Washington airports, both located about 30 mi. from downtown Washington.
The Senate bill also allocates $200 million annually to the Essential Air Service program that subsidizes airline flights to rural communities across the US. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) proposed an amendment to kill the program but it was voted down. The FAA bill now being considered by the House calls for phasing out EAS.
“Thankfully, we fought off efforts by some to cut back on rural air service that directly benefits West Virginia airports,” Rockefeller said. But an amendment from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) that was included in the final bill would cut EAS subsidies for service that carries fewer than 10 passengers daily into an airport if that airport is located 90 mi. or less from a another airport with regular air service.
Source: AIR TRANSPORT WORLD