FAA Reauthorization – Finally!

David Mann

by David Mann, President
Wisconsin Aviation Trades Association

I sometimes am amazed or maybe I should say shocked at the inability of our legislative branch to work together for the good of the United States of America. The entire group of individuals comprising our senate and legislature seem bound and determined to throw compromise overboard and steer the Good Ship USA in two different directions. That being said, should we be upset that it took so long, or should we be excited that the house and senate, after five years of debate and 23 short-term extensions, actually approved a final version of the long-delayed FAA reauthorization bill? By the way, the reauthorization is only for four years, so maybe they should start immediate work on the next reauthorization.

After much research on why the National Mediation Board and the Railroad Labor Act were involved in the FAA reauthorization, the conclusion was reached that not being an attorney, senator or legislator, I had no business attempting to understand why FAA funding has anything to do with making it harder or easier to form a union. It appears that an item that has absolutely no impact on aviation safety or funding was included so that it could be called a compromise when it was dropped and they could pass the bill.

Since 2007, the FAA has operated under 23 short-term extensions. U.S. aviation policy and funding will now have its first long-term legislation since that date. The President has now signed the bill, which authorizes $63.4 billion in FAA funding through 2015. The bill includes $3.35 billion annually for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP).

Some of the highlights are:

1. The legislation requires “NextGen” to be put on a faster track to upgrade the air traffic control system, as well as requiring the FAA to engineer more efficient routes into the nation’s busiest airports. Aircraft that will utilize the busiest routes will have until 2020 to upgrade into compliance with the new system.

2. The federal cap on local PFCs would be kept at $4.50.

3. TSA must allow private screening companies to be hired by airports unless it can be conclusively shown that TSA is more economical. Chairman John Mica, a Florida Republican, proposed the version of the FAA bill for the house, and has said the TSA should not be screening passengers, but should focus on intelligence gathering and oversight of the private screening companies.

4. There was also language concerning the carriage of lithium batteries on aircraft. The language allowed the legislature to enact no rules against carriage of the batteries that were more strict than those enacted by the United Nations, unless the secretary found that they were starting fires.

5. The FAA must by Sept. 30, 2015, begin permitting unmanned drones controlled by remote operators on the ground to fly in the same airspace as airliners, cargo planes, business jets and private aircraft.

6. Currently at Reagan National Airport in Washington, there can be no more than 12 daily nonstop flights from more than 1,250 miles away. The new bill allows for eight more per day.

One other item in the bill was to lower the participation by the FAA in the Airport Improvement Program.  The FAA will only participate at 90% funding at most smaller airports. The bill will allow for 95% funding if:

1. Unemployment in the area is 1% above the national average.
2. The area has actual or anticipated severe unemployment.
3. The area is having economic adjustment problems.
4. The area per capita income is 80% or less than the national average.

With the cutback from $3.55 billion to $3.35 billion, the Wisconsin Bureau of Aeronautics (BOA) estimates it will lose about $4 million per year in AIP funding. The BOA has agreed to raise the state share of grants from 2.5% to 5%, which would leave 5% to airports. BOA also estimates that the first grants will be available in late April or early May.

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