A record number of Americans – more than 44 million – are expected to travel for the Fourth of July holiday this year. AAA predicts that, although most will drive to their destinations, more Americans will travel by air this year than last for Independence Day.
When it comes to air travel, passenger safety and security remain the top priority. However, the travel experiences of Americans can vary widely depending on which airport they use. Those in rural areas are served by a limited number of carriers, affecting convenience and cost. Those flying out of major urban hubs might face flight delays because of airport congestion. The Senate bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) seeks to improve the air travel experiences of all Americans, regardless of their point of origin. As a member of the Senate’s Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, I voted in favor of the bill in committee and look forward to its eventual enactment into law before the current FAA authorization expires in September.
One provision not included in the Senate’s FAA reauthorization bill is the privatization of air traffic control – a plan proposed by the Trump Administration. In a recent hearing with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, I expressed my concerns with the proposal’s impact on rural airports in the form of fees or higher airfares. I am supportive of finding budget savings for our airports through innovation and the use of next-generation equipment. Any plan to privatize America’s air navigation system needs much more work to assure those of us in rural states that we will not be disadvantaged.
The Commerce Committee’s approval of the FAA reauthorization bill sends a strong message that our rural airports will not be forgotten. Under the bill, the Essential Air Service and Small Community Air Service Development programs would be authorized through 2021. Four airports in our state benefit from Essential Air Service, which was designed to help ensure reliable and safe travel for customers in smaller markets. Likewise, the Small Community Air Service Development Program supports strategic grants to resolve air service issues.
The FAA bill also recognizes the increasing costs put on passengers through airlines’ change and cancellation fees. Additional fees can create a substantial financial burden when combined with already high ticket costs, especially in rural areas with a single air carrier. What’s more, these fees often have little to do with the direct costs incurred by the airline when a ticket is rescheduled or canceled. An amendment I sponsored in the FAA bill would require a review of these airline fees in an effort to provide more reasonable and proportionate costs to passengers.
A well-run airport can spur important business investment and economic development in a community. The FAA bill would help keep airport operations running smoothly, with support for maintenance on infrastructure like runways and the contract towers that provide air traffic control in our rural areas. I have been a longtime champion of contract towers. Seven of our state’s airports depend on them for efficient operations, public safety, and emergency response.
I am glad the Commerce Committee has moved this bill forward, reiterating the importance of safe skies and a modern transportation system that serves Americans across our nation. Our economic success depends on access to a vibrant and dependable transportation system.