Aviation groups push agenda as FAA reauthorization stalls
Congress is unlikely to pass a new reauthorization bill for the Federal Aviation Administration before an extension of the agency's funding runs out on June 30. But aviation industry groups are pursuing priorities ranging from winning collective bargaining rights for air traffic controllers to defeating legislation that would increase oversight of foreign repair stations.
"If we see another extension to 2009…you could have a lot of little proxy wars over specific issues," said Matt Hallett, director of media relations for the Aeronautical Repair Station Association, at an Aviation Association breakfast on Wednesday. Hallett said it was likely that many amendments to the current FAA reauthorization bill could become stand-alone bills, requiring more time to pass.
The last FAA reauthorization, in 2003, expired on Sept. 30, 2007. Since then, the agency has been operating on a temporary extension that has frozen funding at the fiscal 2007 level. Hallett said his organization was concerned by an amendment introduced in April by Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., that would impose a number of requirements on FAA to provide greater oversight of aircraft service stations based in other countries. Under the provision, U.S. aircraft could be maintained only at FAA-certified stations, the agency would have to inspect stations twice a year -- at least once without advance notice -- and service stations would have to improve their security measures to meet Transportation Security Administration standards.
Doug Church, director of communications for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, agreed that aviation business needed to move forward -- with or without FAA reauthorization.
"We are desperate for something to give our members," Church said. "We prefer far and away that it's the FAA bill. It's very scary to us, the rapid turnover and the inexperienced workforce coming up."
Air traffic controllers are seeking to close a legislative loophole left over from the 1996 reauthorization bill that allows the FAA administrator to impose a final contract offer on the controllers' union if negotiations deadlock. In 2006, then-administrator Marion Blakey forced pay and work rules on the controllers, and NATCA has been lobbying Congress to send the agency and union back to the bargaining table. President Bush has said that he will veto legislation that requires FAA to reopen negotiations.
But some organizations say their needs can be met only by reauthorization and a new funding bill. T.J. Schulz, vice president of the Airports Consultants Council, which helps airports with architectural planning and environmental engineering, said airports were putting off long-term capital projects after eight months without a steady funding stream.
FAA reauthorization is not the only legislation on industry's agenda. The climate bill co-sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and John Warner, R-Va., would apply a cap-and-trade system to the transportation industry, requiring fuel providers to get licenses for the greenhouse gas content in the fuel they sell.
Some aviation organizations worry that such requirements would drive up gas prices, and consequently, the cost of air travel. They say curbing emissions is an important goal, but balancing cost efficiency and environmental concerns is not an easy task.
"There was an interest in ethanol," said David Castelveter, vice president of communications for the Air Transport Association, but "we can't use it. It freezes at altitude, you have to truck it [and] you can't pipe it. If you force the carriers to fly less, there's going to be pain associated with that."
"There are trade-offs in the emissions and the noise," said Eileen Denne, senior vice president for communications and marketing at the Airports Council International-North America. "The continuous descent approach decreases emissions, but you have to pay attention to the noise."
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., also has introduced an amendment to the Lieberman-Warner bill that would mandate the Environmental Protection Agency to commission a National Academy of Sciences' study on aviation emissions. Participants at the breakfast acknowledged that there needs to be more data on aviation and greenhouse gases to inform the debate.