Senate starts action on FAA reauthorization

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Passage of the reauthorization bill for the FAA cannot be delayed any further, Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Monday, calling its passage “essential” after 17 temporary extensions. He brought the bill up as the first item on the Senate’s agenda in the 212th session of Congress.

Reid, Senate Majority Leader, three other senators and the president of American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE), told a press conference that aviation employs more than 11 million people in the United States and is essential to the nation’s economy.

Senator John (Jay) Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) stressed the importance of the legislation to all airports, not just the ones serving major cities. He made the point that his state of West Virginia depends much on regional carriers and general aviation. Rockefeller chairs the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and authored the reauthorization bill. “Our aviation system is fundamental to our communities and our nation’s long-term economic growth,” he said.

He said aviation represents one of the most important pieces of our economy, generating $1.2 trillion in annual economic activity. “With airports across the United States, this bill is critical to our nation’s economy. It affects people in large cities and small rural communities. This is a significant FAA package that will create and support jobs, make air travel safer, and increase access for rural communities. I am committed to getting this FAA bill to the President’s desk this year.”

Reid also made the point that his state of Nevada gains much from the airports at Las Vegas and Reno but the rest of the state needs the smaller airports. He said it is important that “we make sure we don’t focus only on major airports as all rural airports are essential for air service.”

Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) added that the local imports are vital to the economic health of local communities and of the state of Washington. She is expected to chair the Senate’s Aviation Subcommittee.

Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said passage of the bill is essential, noting that quick development of NextGen is necessary as the United States is lagging behind the rest of the world by using ground-based radar for air traffic management while most of the world has moved to satellites. “To remain competitive,” he said, “we cannot wait another year.”

Airport development plans in the bill are exactly what President Obama was talking about in his State of the Union speech, Schumer added, saying the investments in airport development would create jobs in all parts of the nation.

Charles (Chip) Barclay, who heads AAAE, said the bill would provide $8.1 billion for airport development, but it would come from the aviation trust fund which is fed by airline passenger payments and general aviation fuel taxes.

The bill is similar to one passed last year by the Senate with a vote of 93-0. The only changes are elimination of slots and “a few other issues.” Reauthorization must also be brought up in the House within several weeks. Representative John Mica (R-Fl) who chairs the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has cited reauthorization as a top priority.

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