Rockefeller angry over FAA bill delays

Unless Congress passes an FAA reauthorization bill soon it will be some time before a long-term bill is passed by any Congress. That warning was given by Sen. John (Jay) Rockefeller IV speaking to the Washington Aero Club.

Saying he is both angry and frustrated by the long delays in getting a full reauthorization bill through both Houses of Congress, Rockefeller said Congress and the aviation industry should work to pass a long-term bill this year. He pointed out tougher federal budget times are “virtually inevitable.” Another shut-down like the one that occurred this summer is possible, he added. Short-gap measures have drastically impacted the mission of the agency, he told the Aero Club audience.

The FAA has been operating the past four years under 22 short-term authorizations, making it difficult for planning and affecting plans for NextGen, the new air traffic control system.

Rockefeller cited the differences over the years that have resulted in failures to agree on a bill. In 2007, he said, one of the disputes was over who was to pay for the NextGen system and how it was to be done. Then differences centered on a fight between airlines over pension policies. These differences were followed by conflicts between FedEx and organized labor, followed by disputes about flights into Reagan Washington National Airport and airline fights over Passenger Facility Charges. These delays have kept “hundreds of millions of dollars” for going to the aviation trust fund, he said.

Rockefeller chided the audience, saying “everyone here shares in the blame for how we have come to this point.” Hastening to admit that Congress has not done its job, he charged the aviation industry for lack of action. “Depending on the day of the week or the group one is talking to, the message changes far too often,” he said.

Additional funds will be needed, he added. He said it will become increasingly difficult to maintain the current levels of payments by aviation. “I believe you will see calls for the aviation system to pay more.” The current Senate version of the FAA bill includes an increase in fuel taxes, which the House is opposing despite support from some within the general aviation community, he said. He commended general aviation groups for supporting a fuel tax increase instead of the $100 per flight charge proposed by President Obama. He jokingly added that this proposal makes his efforts “to impose a $25 per flight fee look like a very good deal.”

On several occasions in his talk the Senator was complimentary about general aviation, although most of his remarks were about airlines and the importance of commercial flight to the nation. Rockefeller said he was challenging everyone to compromise more, advocate more, work harder, work smarter, and work as a team.

Business aviation, a recent target for President Obama’s charges of “fat cats,” reacted to Rockefeller’s urgency for FAA reauthorization with a comment from Ed Bolen, CEO of the National Business Aviation Association: “NBAA has long said that a multi-year FAA reauthorization bill is the best way to ensure that the agency has the guidance needed for long-term initiatives, including implementation of a Next Generation Air Traffic System. At the same time, we know that as everyone in Congress works forward a long-term bill, the passage of a short-term extension of existing funding levels in January, if needed, would ensure that FAA employees continue working on existing priorities, including airport maintenance and construction.”

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