As the holidays approached, the likelihood of any action on the FAA budget dimmed considerably when lawmakers carved a provision to increase the mandatory retirement age for commercial pilots out of both FAA reauthorization bills and overwhelmingly approved raising the limit from 60 to 65. President Bush signed the measure into law within hours.
Many veteran Washington observers now speculate that agreement on a new FAA reauthorization package won’t be reached until this spring, at the earliest. Some think the impasse could carry over until after the presidential election in November.
The House of Representatives passed its FAA reauthorization bill (H.R.2881) on September 20. The bill contains no user fees and no concessions to the airlines, which along with the White House, are avid backers of user fees, especially for business aviation. The bill does modestly increase the taxes on jet-A and avgas.
The bottleneck remains in the Senate, where a number of senators support a $25-per-flight fee on all jet and most turboprop operations. That bill also would boost the jet fuel tax to 36 cents per gallon, but there would be no additional charges for aviation gasoline.
It is unclear whether President Bush would veto a final version of FAA reauthorization if it failed to include some types of user fees. Also unknown is whether a provision in the House bill that would force the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association to reopen their disputed contract would still draw a threatened White House veto.