Senate starts FAA reauthorization debate

After two years and 11 temporary extensions, the Senate has begun debating reauthorization of the FAA, calling for improvements in the air traffic management system.

The bill, cosponsored by committee chairman Sens. John (Jay) Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), reauthorizes FAA’s four major accounts for two years, through fiscal year 2011. It provides $17.036 billion in 2010 and $17.526 billion in 2011 for operations, research engineering and development, facilities and equipment, and the airport improvement program.

It also establishes clear deadlines for adoption of existing NextGen navigation and surveillance technology with the top 35 airports to be completed by 2014 and the entire national airspace system required to be covered by 2018. The bill requires the FAA to accelerate timelines for integrating Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B Out) into the national airspace system on all aircraft by 2015 and the use of ADS-B In on all aircraft by 2018.

The bill would have the FAA establish an Air Traffic Control Management Oversight Board to oversee the agency’s modernization activities and to establish a NextGen officer, who will be responsible for implementation of the NextGen programs.

FAA estimates NextGen will cost the agency $20 billion through 2025 and cost the airlines another $20 billion in aircraft equipage. It does not forecast the cost to general aviation.

If passed by the Senate, the legislation must be reconciled with a bill passed by the House.

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