Another FAA Shutdown Looming?

 - December 3, 2011, 2:55 PM

Unless a knotty labor problem that has gridlocked FAA reauthorization negotiations is resolved, another shutdown of the FAA is possible, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee warned last month.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) told the Washington Aero Club that the primary holdup is a dispute between a major airline and labor unions over a provision in the House version of FAA reauthorization that would make it more difficult for airline workers to unionize.

The House and Senate have been bickering for months over a few major differences between their separate versions of long-term FAA reauthorization. Chief among them, according to Rockefeller, is the labor dispute. Republicans in the House want to overturn a National Mediation Board rule approved last year that makes it easier for labor unions to organize airline workers.

While the GOP provision has the backing of the airline industry, the chief beneficiary would be Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, the largest carrier that is primarily non-union. Rockefeller told the luncheon gathering “there is no movement, no give” in the GOP-controlled House. He said industry must put more pressure on Congress to pass a bill, which is critical to advancing the NextGen air traffic management system.

NextGen Hinges on Reauthorization

Meanwhile, Rockefeller’s counterpart in the House, Transportation Committee chairman John Mica (R-Fla.), is once again calling for passage of a long-term FAA reauthorization before year-end.

At a congressional field hearing on NextGen ATC technologies in Daytona Beach, Fla., last month, he said the next important step in moving NextGen forward is for Congress to pass a long-overdue FAA reauthorization bill.

“We have had four-and-a-half years of delay and short-term extensions of the previous FAA law,” Mica said at the session at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which is in his congressional district. “This patchwork series of 22 short-term FAA extensions is no way for Congress to authorize our nation’s aviation system and programs.”

He continued, “It is time to complete an FAA bill, which will set critically needed milestones and metrics for the development of NextGen,” adding that legislation could be ready for the President’s signature by Christmas.

At a media briefing in Washington in late October, Mica told reporters that he believed disagreements between House and Senate lawmakers could be resolved, clearing the way for a four-year extension of funding and programs for the FAA. The agency is currently operating under the 22nd short-term extension, which expires Jan. 31, 2012.

The FAA has been operating without a new long-term bill since 2007, when a previous four-year bill expired. In addition to the union dispute, other roadblocks to new long-term reauthorization are takeoff and landing slots at some airports and federal subsidies to regional airlines that operate in and out of rural airports.

Recognizing that many in the Aero Club membership are industry lobbyists, Rockefeller pleaded, “I need your help and, frankly, I haven’t been getting nearly enough.” A spokesman for Mica said the chairman “has been and continues to be willing to reach a compromise on every single issue in the bill.”