Delays continue on FAA reauthorization: Many believe user feebattle will continue through next year

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Senate continued to dawdle on appropriation bills, forcing another extension of the FAA’s temporary authorization to Dec. 31, 2007.

In late October, the Senate passed a single provision of the FAA Authorization Act, the Essential Air Service (EAS) program. By voice vote the House approved an amended version of the bill to extend the EAS program, adding FAA operations. Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) said he added the full FAA “”to ensure that these essential services continue to operate without interruption.””

The bill passed by the House was the second six-week extension of the authorization that expired Sept. 30. Speculation here is that an additional extension probably will be needed before both houses of Congress agree on an FAA reauthorization package, assuring a continuation of the struggle over user fees. Some even believe there will be extensions to the end of next year, providing more time to wrestle over the user fee issue.

The airlines are not letting up on their efforts to move general aviation out of certain airspace, despite continuing reports that GA operations — including the growing number of business jets — is not the cause of the record delays air carriers are experiencing.

Next month, for instance, the Air Transport Association will publish its year-end report and include a poll to elicit answers to the best way to reduce delays. The question that will be asked is: “”What is the single best way to reduce delays?”” Those voting may choose from (1) Congestion pricing/demand management (2) Limiting general aviation operations in NY airspace (3) Begin transformation to satellite-based technology or (4) Hire more air traffic controllers.

With the airlines strongly against general aviation, it’s easy to see which of those four possible answers will be chosen by a principally airline-oriented opinion sample. This “”survey”” is another example of what pollsters know: “”Tell me what you want to show and I’ll design a survey to prove it.””

Meanwhile, congestion is expected to worsen during the holiday season, while the impasse between the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) is not going to be settled until Congress weighs in. NATCA thus far seems to be the only group opposed to the nomination of Robert Sturgell to be FAA administrator for the next five years. The controllers’ union opposition is based on Sturgell’s role in labor-management relations during the struggle over a contract.

NTSB’S MOST WANTED

Alleged airspace congestion is not the only issue. Airport conditions are a major concern of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). At a recent public meeting, the NTSB added runway collision prevention to its most wanted list of safety recommendations. This follows six runway near-collisions in the past six months. The NTSB also added air traffic controller fatigue to its list, urging NATCA and the FAA to work together on revising work schedules.

NTSB has 44 safety recommendations on its most wanted list, with half being issued to the FAA. Others are aimed at highway, motor carrier, railroad, pipeline and hazardous materials, air traffic control, and U.S. Coast Guard operations.

Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.

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