Happy Y2K12: Congress Dithers on FAA Reauthorization, while TSA Moves Slowly on New Lasp

 - January 2, 2012, 2:20 AM

After months of talks between House and Senate negotiators over FAA reauthorization, a compromise agreement remains stalled, primarily because of a labor dispute between the major airlines and organized labor. Although both chambers in Congress profess the need for long-term legislation to set the course for agency programs and funding, at press time the issue appeared to be headed into the New Year without resolution.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, told the influential Washington Aero Club that the House Republicans inserted a provision in their reauthorization bill that would overturn a recent National Mediation Board rule that makes it easier for labor unions to organize airline workers.

The FAA has been operating without a new long-term bill since 2007, when the previous multi-year FAA authorization expired. In addition to the labor dispute, other roadblocks to a new long-term reauthorization are the number of flights at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and federal subsidies to regional airlines that operate in and out of rural airports.

According to Rockefeller, “there is no movement, no give” in the GOP-controlled House. But Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee, maintains he has been and continues to be willing to reach a compromise on every single issue in the bill.

Aviation User Fees Linger in Background

Running in the background as all of this plays out is President Obama’s proposal for aviation user fees, pegged at $100 for each turbine-powered flight filing for IFR. While it may not have been the primary topic at NBAA’s annual convention in October, the specter of user fees piled on top of a wobbly economy mystified many attendees.

The “Stop User Fees” message was highlighted at the show, including signage and handouts. Contact Congress pocket cards featured QR (quick response) coding, which enabled individuals to use the “Contact Congress” function of the NBAA Web site right from their smartphones.

NBAA encouraged members to lend their voices to the user-fee battle as a follow-up to a joint declaration by the nation’s leading GA associations of their adamant opposition to the $100 charge for each GA flight. The President has suggested imposing the fee as part of his solution for reducing the nation’s deficit.

GA Awaits Revised Large Aircraft Security Program

Meanwhile, GA operators anxiously waited all year to learn what the Transportation Security Administration did to the reviled Large Aircraft Security Program (Lasp). Although the TSA set the end of 2011 as the target for publicly releasing the revised Lasp in the form of a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking, it appears that, too, will be pushed off to the New Year.

A top TSA official said the new version will be closer to TSA Administrator John Pistole’s focus on risk management rather than risk elimination. When the TSA announced the Lasp in October 2008, it threatened to ground every GA aircraft with a maximum takeoff weight exceeding 12,500 pounds unless the operator adopted security plan modeled on airline security.

The TSA has revealed that the weight threshold will be higher and entire package will be more logical than the old Lasp.