By Jennifer Michaels
April 1, 2011
John Mica (R-Fla.), who chairs the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, says debate on the House version of the FAA reauthorization bill should be finished by Friday, and he does not want anything less than a four-year bill, a reference to the Senate two-year bill.
More than 50 possible amendments were submitted March 29 in the House to the bill (H.R.658), but the Rules Committee yesterday afternoon was scheduled to pare that down to a workable number. The same sticking points from past bills continue to be points of contention and are the subject of several competing amendments – Washington Airport slots, labor election rules and the Essential Air Service (EAS) program.
The EAS program would be phased out in three years in the bill, with the exception of Alaska and Hawaii; Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) intends to propose an amendment that would keep EAS alive, providing a minimum of $200 million per year, at least $50 million of which would come from overflight fees. Mica, speaking to a crowded AeroClub of Washington luncheon Wednesday, said the EAS language may be able to be tweaked a little to at least get rid of the largest and most unnecessary subsidized service.
Mica predicted that a controversial labor provision in the bill, which would overturn new National Mediation Board airline election procedures that are opposed by most U.S. airlines, will not stay in the bill. Reps. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) and Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) plan to offer an amendment to strip the bill of that language. “If this provision remains in this bill, we’re going to be back on the floor with extensions in the future because there’s no way the Senate’s going to pass this with the provision in it,” Costello said. “Let’s have an open debate on the floor and an up or down vote.”
Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) filed a proposal to allow carriers using Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to serve any airport whose distance falls outside the 1,250-mile perimeter rule now in effect. Senators worked for weeks on crafting a more complex compromise on the slot issue in the Senate version of the bill, which has already been passed and is awaiting conference with the House. Also, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) plans to offer an amendment that would clarify the criteria by which an airline is determined to be an incumbent when competing for new slots at National Airport. Mica says he would be willing to deal on the number of slots available to incumbents and new entrants, “but not right now.”
Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) intends to offer an amendment to require airlines to make baggage fees more transparent and to refund those fees to passengers when baggage is lost, damaged or delayed.
Mica has a manager’s amendment that includes requiring the FAA to consult with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and report on the state of preparedness for airports located in flood plains. It also would give airports some relief from liability regarding implementation of Safety Management System requirements.
Mica, in an extremely candid speech, told the Aeroclub, “I’m so mad. I had some great crap I wanted to put in the bill, but the damn Republicans won’t let me.” He again attacked the Transportation Security Administration as bureaucracy run amok. “The bad news is, I created it after 9/11. The good news is, I’m now chairman, and I’ll get ’em.” He notes that the TSA is now “an army” of 62,985 employees with 49,553 screeners and 3,776 bureaucrats in the Washington headquarters making an average salary of $105,000.
In other action on Tuesday, the Senate late in the day approved extending the FAA bill authorization for another 60 days, to May 31. The House approved the extension earlier in the day, which now awaits President Barack Obama’s. The House is prepared to begin debate on the four-year reauthorization bill today.
Source: AVIATION WEEK