Despite the best efforts of numerous aviation groups and a small army of lobbyists, Congress adjourned early last month without enacting an FAA reauthorization bill. Before the rush to get out of Washington began in earnest, lawmakers passed a 16th short-term extension of FAA programs and funding, which President Obama signed into law.
Members of the House and Senate were keen to get back home, and those running for re-election were anxious to begin campaigning for their jobs. After the November 2 elections, Congress is expected to return to Capitol Hill for a lame-duck session.
But the prospects for a multi-year FAA reauthorization this year appear dim, in part because of some airline pilot training and safety provisions that were stripped from the reauthorization plan and passed as the standalone Federal Aviation Extension Act of 2011. The proposed new rules on pilot duty-time limitations and rest requirements came out of the February 2009 Colgan Air crash near Buffalo.
Industry groups hoped that the urgency to enact the new rules would give Congress the impetus to pass the FAA reauthorization.
“Unbelievably, this will be the 16th short-term extension of FAA programs Congress will pass since the previous multi-year authorization expired three years ago,” said Rep. John Mica (Fla.), Republican leader of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “In 2003, when I chaired the aviation subcommittee, we completed that FAA reauthorization in seven months. Without a long-term bill, major aviation projects and the jobs they would create remain on hold.”
Improvements on Hold
While most of the issues important to general aviation have been approved, the overall FAA reauthorization legislation is roadblocked by disputes between the House and Senate over the duration of airline flights out of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and a long-running labor dispute between FedEx and UPS over unionization at FedEx.
“We have to pass this extension to ensure that funding continues to trickle to FAA programs,” Mica said before the vote last month, “but it is deeply disappointing that this Democrat-led Congress has again failed to pass a vital long-term, job-creating infrastructure reauthorization and has put our nation’s aviation system in this sorry predicament.”
Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.), ranking member of the aviation subcommittee, recalled that the House first passed its version of a long-term reauthorization bill three years ago during the 110th Congress. “Our airports need certainty in funding to plan and carry out needed infrastructure projects efficiently and wisely,” he said. “We have important, complex programs like NextGen to modernize our air traffic control system that deserve more than to be funded in this endless series of extensions.”
But House aviation subcommittee chairman Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) claimed that the House and Senate are not that far apart on a compromise FAA reauthorization, although he does not believe it will be passed during the lame-duck session. The 16th extension will expire December 31, meaning that a 17th is likely to be passed during the lame-duck session.