The AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department is pushing Congress to approve a new round of funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) when lawmakers return to Washington next month.
The FAA bill, which includes funding for air traffic controllers, is scheduled to expire on Sept. 30.
AFL-CIO TTD President Ed Wytkind said Wednesday that lawmakers should get to work on passing a reauthorization of the aviation agency’s funding as soon as Congress return to session on Sept. 8.
“Today is National Aviation Day, which is a good day to celebrate the incredible accomplishments of U.S. aviation. It is also a perfect opportunity to remind politicians in Washington that on the last day of September, funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will run dry,” he wrote in a blog post on the labor group’s website.
“That means once back in session, lawmakers will have 19 days to avoid a lapse in funding that would devastate our aviation system,” Wytkind continued. “What we really need is bipartisan, multi-year legislation that expands and modernizes our air traffic control system and aviation infrastructure.”
The FAA deadline has flown under the radar for most of the year, with lawmakers focusing on a separate highway funding measure that initially had a May 31 deadline.
Lawmakers had promised to move to the FAA funding bill after the conclusion of the highway funding debate, but Congress is now expected to focus on highways upon returning to Washington next month, because lawmakers punted debate on a long-term surface transportation funding bill to October before leaving for their August recess.
Wytkind said it is important for Congress to not allow the FAA bill to get lost in the highway funding turbulence that has gripped Washington in recent months.
“We know from painful experience that without a multi-year bill, the FAA will be faced with more patchwork extensions — something lawmakers vowed they would never let happen again after the last fiasco,” he wrote. “It took 23 short-term funding extensions over the course of three years and a partial shutdown of the FAA before Congress was able to produce the 2012 FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act.”
The FAA’s last funding measure, in 2012, was passed following a string of more than 20 temporary extensions that resulted in a partial shutdown of the agency in 2011.
Wytkind said “that shutdown cost the federal government nearly $30 million a day and created a cascading disaster for air travelers, the aviation industry and FAA employees.
“Remember forced furloughs, rampant flight delays and dangerous maintenance and repair backlogs?” he wrote. “I get a migraine just thinking about it.”
The FAA’s funding was also cut in the 2013 sequester, resulting in air traffic controller furloughs and flight delays, before Congress passed a quick fix to restore the spending.
Wytkind said the inconsistent nature of the FAA’s funding has hurt the nation’s aviation system.
“The political brinksmanship approach to authorizing and funding our FAA does long-term damage to the safety and efficiency of our national aviation network, threatens middle class jobs and hurts our international competitiveness. It has also stunted workforce development and left the FAA with a staffing crisis,” he wrote.
“Over a third of the agency’s employees are currently eligible for retirement, but there are not nearly enough new hires in training to replace them, and for those who are in the pipeline, it takes between two and five years before they are ready for prime time,” Wytkind concluded.