Lawmakers wrestle over FAA reauthorization

 - May 28, 2011, 7:45 AM

Although House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman John Mica said on May 11 that “significant progress” was being made in FAA reauthorization talks between House and Senate conferees, he conceded that Congress may have to pass another short-term extension to give negotiators more time to iron out differences between the two pieces of legislation.

The Democrat-controlled Senate passed a two-year, $34.5 billion FAA reauthorization bill in February that would boost FAA spending. But the Republican-controlled House answered in April with a four-year package that would cut about $4 billion from projected spending through 2015.

The current extension–the 18th since the last long-term reauthorization plan expired in 2007–was expected to expire May 31 unless action was taken before then. When the House finally passed its FAA bill, Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said, “I remain hopeful that, working together, we can get a comprehensive FAA [funding bill] to the President’s desk this year.”

Republicans hailed the four-year, $59.7 billion House bill as a job- and money-saver, while Democrats countered that the bill would make drastic cuts to the FAA budget and have dire consequences for the nation’s infrastructure, jobs and the economy.

In defending the GOP reduction of FAA funding to 2008 levels, Mica (R-Fla.) said the FAA can do more with less. But he claimed the cuts come from streamlining aviation programs and facilities, and do not negatively impact aviation safety.

But Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) president and CEO Marion Blakey said, “The House Appropriation Committee’s proposed top-line numbers for fiscal year 2012 for areas of the budget that cover NASA and the FAA are substantially reduced from last year.”

According to the AIA, the committee’s 14 percent proposed cut to transportation, housing and urban development is significantly lower than the President’s budget request. If applied to the FAA, reduced funding would delay important benefits of NextGen such as improved system safety, reduced flight delays and fewer carbon emissions. FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt recently said such a cut “would degrade the safe and efficient movement of air traffic today and in the future.”