Late yesterday, by a vote of 93-0, the Senate (finally) passed the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act. The FAA has been authorized by short-term extensions since 2007, it took a lot to get to this point.
Just this year:
- FAA is now under its twelfth short-term authorization, valid until the start of July.
- Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) had put a hold on the bill, due to his interest in protecting FedEx from unionization. On March 11, he lifted his hold, because language changing labor laws, was removed (via tradingmarkets.com).
- Family members of the victims of Flight 3407 lobbied tirelessly for increased regulation and oversignt for regional airlines (via WGRZ). Pilot training, pilot records and pilot fatigue are all addressed.
WKBW News has a good summary of what the Senate passed. The next step is to resolve differences with the House version. Hopefully it won’t take three months, but yesterday, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) said, “we have our work cut out for us,” to reconcile (via @AvWeekScho).
- Funding of NextGen, the future air traffic control system, is a point of contention for some interest groups. Airlines will be required to pay for their onboard equipment (Seattle Times). But, it is otherwise a very expensive project. FAA defended the costs late last week (from nextgov).
- Use or not of passenger and facility fees is of interest to groups like the Air Transport Association and the American Association of Airport Executives, who are to have their voices heard as reconciliation begins.
- The labor law language Sen. Corker opposed will still need to be worked out. More on the disputed items from GovExec.
- The Senate version includes a “Passenger Bill of Rights,” which aims to limit the time spent on the tarmac, in the event of delays. Some airlines have said complying would be a hardship and, at certain airports, have already requested extensions (New York Times).
For everyone (legislators, staff, interest groups, industry, concerned citizens) who worked toward this for the last four years, thank you! Although there is satisfaction, I imagine (and have heard) there is also a bit of resentment. Four years is a long time to be operating in a tentative framework. For the goverment agencies, it is especially difficult to operate with no long-term directive. So, may this be the beginning of something better.