Will Congressional shoot out cause FAA shutdown?

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Will the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives blink before midnight Friday so another temporary extension can be passed and prevent a closing of the FAA over lack of funding?

That’s the question many in all phases of aviation are asking here as the deadline for the end of the 20th temporary funding bill approaches.

FAA’s full reauthorization was last passed seven and a half years ago. Since that bill expired, FAA has been operating on temporary extensions. This has made long-term planning difficult because of uncertain funding, FAA officials said.

Differences between the two sides of the Capitol have made getting a full extension difficult but the action over this extension has resulted in increased anger. The House passed an extension that contains a section eliminating essential air service as some airports and placing a cap on the amount of federal subsidy given to an airport. The reaction of Sen. John J. Rockefeller (D-W Va) was swift and blunt. He accused the House of not being serious about getting a comprehensive bill done and of “setting a terrible precedent for bipartisanship.” Rockefeller is chair of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

The extension passed by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure stops three airports from receiving Essential Air Service (EAS) federal subsidies in excess of $1,000 per ticket. Currently, for example, Ely, Nevada, receives $3,720 per passenger subsidy.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said of the two relatively small EAS provisions in the bill, one has already passed the Senate.

Rockefeller said by sending the bill with EAS restrictions, the House has tried to jam the Senate on the EAS extension. His office said he will “move forward with trying to pass a clean funding extension.” Some, however, considered it too late for Congress to move an extension through both houses before the midnight Friday deadline.

If FAA does shut down, air traffic controllers will remain on the job, as they are considered essential. The FAA does not want to speculate and aviation organizations do not want to forecast what actions might take place nor how long any shutdown might last.

Charles Spence is General Aviation News’ Washington, D.C., correspondent.

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