Work begins on FAA reauthorization

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Reauthorization of the FAA is nearly two years behind schedule. The House is trying again to pass a bill, hoping that it won’t be stalled – again – in the Senate. The present temporary reauthorization expires March 31.

“We need to get a bill passed as quickly as possible,” said Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), chair of the Aviation Subcommittee.

Aviation groups testifying at the first hearing on the new bill heartily endorsed the House legislation and urged its quick passage. The bill, introduced by Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), contains most of the provisions found in the original reauthorization. What it doesn’t contain: User fees.

It proposes funding at an historic level of more than $70 billion. Included are $38.9 billion for operations, $13.4 billion for facilities and equipment, $1.35 billion for research, engineering and development, $200 million for the essential air service program, and $16.2 billion for airport improvement. The airport improvement funds are on top of what might be included in the so-called stimulus package.

Airlines and general aviation testifying on the same panel momentarily set aside their differences to urge the House to quickly move the reauthorization along to let the FAA get on with its work. Long-term projects are not possible with short-term financing, aviation advocates pointed out.

James May, president of the Air Transport Association (ATA), which represents airlines, urged fast action to get the next generation of air traffic control in place. Craig Fuller, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), told the panel that the groups testifying, unlike past years, totally support the funding bill, although he did say his association would take exception to the proposed new $45 for renewing a medical certificate.

General aviation received strong support at the hearing. Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), said, “general aviation is essential to America.”

General aviation keeps the country’s business on the move, whether it’s flying executives to reach any of the hundred cities that lost airline service last year, move equipment needed in a hurry, or to reach several cities in a day, he declared.

The last point was underscored by Clayton Jones, chairman, president and CEO of Rockwell Collins, who spoke for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), and Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA). When asked how he got to Washington, he said by business jet. “I attended a meeting this morning in Florida, am testifying here this afternoon, and have another meeting in Philadelphia tonight, none of which would be possible without a business airplane,” he said.

Several members of the subcommittee also endorsed general aviation, commenting that without it, jobs would be lost in smaller cities.

Not all members of the House are in favor of the bill. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said, “most of what has been introduced in this bill is regurgitated from last Congress’ failed bill, including the controversial proposals that doomed it in the first place.”

He added “there are some half-baked proposals in the bill that could seriously damage the aviation industry,” citing provisions relating to insecticide notification, overseas repair stations, rescue and firefighting standards for airports, and OSHA standards for aircraft crews. He said he wanted some of the issues studied more before action is taken.

It’s expected that someone will soon be nominated for the position of FAA administrator.

Members of the House want a swift confirmation, noting that having temporary administrators for more than 18 months has prevented any major advancements.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said that priorities of the new administrator will be to resolve the labor dispute between the FAA and National Air Traffic Controllers Association, and to move quickly on the next generation of air traffic control.

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

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