By Jennifer Michels
April 3, 2011
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the FAA reauthorization bill (H.R.658) by a vote of 223 to 196 before 1 p.m. on Friday, April 1, after starting floor debate at noon the day before. This bill must now go through what can only be expected to be a laborious conference process with the Senate to square funding levels with the Senate’s two-year bill.
An amendment to strike a controversial provision, which the White House has already warned could cause a veto, was voted down, and the labor provision is still in the bill. Reps. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) and Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) submitted the amendment to strike the language that would overturn new National Mediation Board election rules for unions. But the amendment was defeated by a vote of 206-220.
Conferees also will have to resolve differences over the Essential Air Service Program. The House bill phases it out in three years for all states except Alaska and Hawaii. The Senate bill gives the program a bit of an overhaul and makes it more difficult for some airlines to receive EAS funds. Several amendments on EAS were withdrawn, and several members from rural states, such as Nick Rahal (D-W.Va.) made please on the floor to keep the program alive.
The one issue that was said to have held up passage of this bill last year – how to allocate slots at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport – will require major wrangling over some numbers in conference. The Senate bill (S.223) increases the number of exemptions allowed for slots for flights destined beyond the 1,250-mile perimeter to 24, with eight more possible after the Transportation Department studies the impact of the initial 24. The House bill would increase these slot exemptions from 24 to 34 while reducing unused slots wtihin the perimeter by 10.
Another amendment defeated Friday was submitted by Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), who wanted federal air marshals deployed on all “high-risk” flights.
The House bill cuts Airport Improvement Program funding to $3 billion per year; the Senate bill increases that funding to $4.1 billion. Both keep the passenger facility charge at $4.50.
Both sides now have until May 31 to pass a unified bill because the House and Senate earlier in the week passed the 18th short-term extension to the bill.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) who got the Senate bill through swiftly, said of the House passage: “We are ready to roll up our sleeves and get this bill done. I am confident that we can work through all the differences between the House and Senate version of this bill in the conference process, but I will focus especially close on funding for rural air service. The EAS program has always been a priority for me and other members from rural areas who realize that this program is an economic lifeline that creates and supports jobs. I remain hopeful that, working together, we can get a comprehensive FAA bill to the president’s desk this year.”
Source: AVIATION WEEK