Devil's in the details of FAA reauthorization bills

 - August 4, 2008, 10:22 AM

House and Senate staff members continued working last month to resolve differences in the two separate versions of FAA reauthorization legislation passed by their respective bodies in June, even though the House/Senate conference committee had yet to convene officially.

In June, the House passed its Flight 100-Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act (Flight 100-CARA) by an overwhelming vote of 418 to 8, while the Senate approved its Aviation and Revitalization Vision Act (AIR-V) by a 94-0 margin. Flight 100-CARA reauthorizes FAA funding at a total of $59 billion over fiscal years 2004-2007, while AIR-V calls for $43.5 billion over fiscal years 2004-2006.

Meanwhile, various groups and individuals are beating paths up Capitol Hill to make pitches for or against provisions in the bills. One lobbyist speculated to AIN that a final vote on a combined bill probably will not come until Congress returns from its summer recess after Labor Day.

Even President Bush has weighed in, threatening a veto over provisions in both bills that would prohibit any form of ATC privatization. That essentially would thwart the White House in its efforts at least to study the outsourcing of federal jobs. Under a 48-year-old regulation, the private sector can compete for work that is not “inherently governmental.”

Bush caused a furor among air traffic controllers in December when the White House reclassified the jobs of controllers as “commercial” rather than “inherently governmental.” Despite reassurance from FAA Administrator Marion Blakey that their jobs will not be subcontracted, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association saw this as an opening salvo against their livelihoods.

The White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said the Bush Administration “strongly opposes” provisions that would restrict the Transportation Department’s ability to manage the ATC system by prohibiting the conversion of government-provided ATC functions to the private sector. “Such restrictions are unnecessary and would hinder the ability of the FAA to manage the air traffic control system,” the OMB said.

The OMB’s statement of Administration policy indicated that the executive branch also is unhappy with some other provisions in the bills, but it promised to work with Congress to correct those differences before any compromise proposal reaches Bush’s desk.

A provision in Flight 100-CARA that would require aircraft and equipment manufacturers to make maintenance manuals involving continued airworthiness available at cost to maintenance providers has caused a mini-firestorm. The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) sent a joint letter in opposition to Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), House majority whip, early last month. It was signed by most of the major business jet airframers, as well as engine and avionics manufacturers.

They contend it would require them to give intellectual property to any repair station or individual mechanic, and argue that current regulations require them to make available to the owner/operator all data necessary to ensure that an aircraft flies safely.

The group said the issues raised in the section are “extremely complex” and should be studied before any changes are made. “This will ensure that aerospace manufacturers are not injured, repair stations receive a fair hearing regarding their needs and the flying public does not suffer adverse safety consequences,” Blunt was told.

The Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) lobbied to get the provision added to the FAA reauthorization bill. “The FAA requires that these materials, also known as instructions for continued airworthiness, be made available to aircraft owners and maintenance providers,” ARSA said. “Yet some manufacturers have adopted policies that prevent independent repair stations from obtaining maintenance manuals under any circumstances.”

A provision in AIR-V that would ban Stage 2 business jets at Jackson Hole Airport, Wyo., has drawn fire from NBAA, which called it a potentially precedent-setting provision that would bypass the FAA’s Part 161 investigation process. NBAA has expressed its concerns to Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.), who is shepherding the measure.

NBAA has a strong ally in AIA. “It is of no comfort that this section is limited to Jackson Hole,” said AIA. “For example, Naples, Florida, is attempting to impose unilateral noise restrictions on aircraft operations, while San Francisco was deterred from imposing its own unilateral restrictions only when the FAA threatened to withhold [Airport Improvement Program] funding from San Francisco International Airport if those restrictions were to go into effect.”