The analogy of a ticking timepiece arose more than once last week as the U.S. Congress neared its self-imposed September 16 deadline to extend funding authorization of the FAA. In the absence of long-term reauthorization legislation, the agency has operated through 21 funding extensions since September 2007, and signs pointed to Congress passing yet another extension.
“The clock is ticking…and we have not made enough progress to achieve bipartisan agreement” on a reauthorization bill, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Democratic chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said September 8. Echoing earlier comments by President Obama, he implored the Republican-controlled House to pass a “clean extension” of FAA funding–one without conditions that postponed agreement over the current extension and partially shuttered the FAA for two weeks in late July. Republican Rep. John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, pledged to work with Democrats toward “a 22nd funding extension.”
Draft FAA reauthorization legislation has sat on the proverbial table for months. The Senate passed a two-year, $34.5 billion measure in February. The House passed a four-year, $59.7 billion package in April. But reconciling the bills has stalled due to political differences over a handful of issues. They include whether to continue Essential Air Service funding of flights into small airports and a mounting confrontation over union certification rules. House legislation would override a 2010 ruling by the National Mediation Board making it easier to organize unions.
The threat of another FAA shutdown prompted a press conference September 7 at Washington Reagan National Airport involving unions representing airline pilots, flight attendants and air traffic controllers. Speakers said Congress should pass a full reauthorization bill, not a funding extension, and warned of potential safety consequences of unstable funding. “We’re in critical need of a real bill, a bill that will provide the necessary level of funding to enhance the future safety and efficiency of our aviation system. …To do anything less at this moment jeopardizes safety and has a direct impact on the viability of the entire industry,” said Capt. Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association. “The clock is ticking,” said Veda Shook, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. “A broad range of important safety programs and research projects that help make every flight safer are frozen in place because of the lack of dedicated, stable and long-term funding for the FAA.”