WASHINGTON, D.C. — Leaders of general aviation groups here are quick to praise the speed with which Congress is moving to give the FAA its first long-term authorization since 2003, while at the same time crossing their fingers that differences between Senate and House bills won’t again prevent agreement on a bill that both Houses can accept.
The Senate passed its bill giving a two-year reauthorization by a vote of 87-8 and sent it to the House, where reauthorization has passed the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee but not yet acted on by the full membership. Most of the differences between the versions that held up agreement in the past have been omitted, but new and perhaps more controversial ones are in the bills.
Among these differences are cutting back the FAA’s budget to 2008 levels and discontinuing Essential Air Service to small airports. Whether these and other differences stay in the House version is not certain. Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), ranking member on the House aviation subcommittee, opposes several issues of the bill. However, with the Republican majority, the version of the bill out of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is expected to pass, setting the stage for a possible stalemate between the House and Senate.
Showing moral support to legislators to gain agreement, praise for bill movement has been released by the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, (AOPA), National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), and National Air Transportation Association (NATA), among others.
The 17th temporary extension expires March 31. Unless the House passes its bill, a conference between two sides of Capitol Hill reaches a compromise, and the President signs a final bill before that time, the 18th temporary extension will need to be passed to keep the FAA operating. Both Houses passed their own bills in the past but failed to reach agreement in attempts since 2007.
Those crossed fingers might be lucky this time. Maybe not.