July 6, 2011 By Aaron Karp
News from ATW’s Airports Today: The US Congress last week again passed a short-term FAA funding extension as lawmakers continued to fail to reach agreement on the long-term agency reauthorization bill that airports across the US say is necessary to bring stability to construction project planning.
The latest extension, the 20th enacted since FAA’s authorization officially expired Sept. 30, 2007, will keep the agency running through July 22. Multiple sources with knowledge of Congressional negotiations aimed at producing a long-term bill told ATW that a number of disagreements remain unresolved, fueling pessimism that FAA reauthorization will be passed in the near-term.
FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt, Airports Council International-North America and airport directors around the US have been saying for some time that uncertainty over FAA funding, particularly the Airport Improvement Program that helps finance expansion programs, is causing disruptions to airport construction projects (ATW’s Airports Today, Oct. 5, 2010). “For over three-and-a-half years we’ve been operating on extensions,” Babbitt noted during a recent speech. “It’s been very difficult to run an agency on extensions É We need to restore long-term stability to funding.”
The Republican-led House of Representatives and Democratic-controlled Senate passed separate FAA reauthorization bills earlier this year and have been unable to bridge the differences to craft unified legislation that both chambers could pass and send to President Barack Obama for signature into law (ATW Daily News, April 4).
According to those familiar with the House/Senate negotiations, four issues remain stumbling blocks to a deal, three of which directly relate to airports. These include a lack of agreement over distributing slots at Washington National Airport, AIP funding levels and whether to phase out the Essential Air Service program that subsidizes flights to airports in rural communities. The fourth issue, which is not directly relevant to airports but may prove to be the most contentious area of disagreement, relates to the House bill’s repeal of the National Mediation Board’s decision last year to change air and rail labor group voting rules to lower the threshold for unionization.
The House bill also calls for phasing out EAS for all states except Alaska and Hawaii by 2013. ACI-NA, the American Assn. of Airport Executives, the Regional Airline Assn. and the National Assn. of State Aviation Officials jointly stated in a letter to Congress, “Of the 435 [US] commercial airports outside of Alaska and Hawaii, 106 of those airports receive air service only through the Essential Air Service program. Eliminating the program at those airports would shut down air travel to and from nearly one-quarter of our nation’s commercial airports. The economic impact on our nation’s air transportation network É would be substantial.”
Source: AIR TRANSPORT WORLD