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After House Passage, NASAO’s Focus Shifts to Senate Bill

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 393-13 to approve a five-year FAA Reauthorization bill. A total of 254 amendments were submitted, 116 of which were considered, with the vast majority passing en bloc.

Notably absent from H.R. 4 is a highly controversial plan to privatize air traffic control (ATC) operations. While the concept has been debated and defeated in multiple Congresses dating back to the 1980’s, the political climate for an overhaul of the Air Traffic Organization (ATO) had seemingly never been more favorable coming into this year.

Even with the initial steadfast support of the Trump Administration, willing House Leadership in terms of calendar prioritization and whipping votes in the majority caucus, and the constant influence of a well-funded airline lobbying effort, the retiring T&I Chairman’s adamant push for ATC Privatization was ultimately forgone – but not without a last-minute effort to slip in backdoor reform before the Bill passed out of the House.

Thankfully, NASAO, along with a strong alliance of numerous GA associations – large and small – were able to collectively mount sufficient opposition in a swift manner, leading to the Chairman’s decision to withdraw the just-introduced provision. The Manager’s Amendment, when initially introduced, required the chief operating officer of the ATO to report to the DOT Secretary rather than the FAA Administrator. It also created an ATC Advisory Board – with a non-descript composition criteria, leaving the door open to possible airline controlled or favored leadership structure. While the provision seemed relatively innocuous compared to the previous, more significant ATC proposal – Members on both sides of the aisle agreed that there simply wasn’t sufficient time to evaluate the intent and true potential impact of the proposed change, which was certainly more significant upon closer examination.

“We were pleased with the Chairman’s decision to withdraw this secondary ATC reform proposal to keep this much-needed, long-term FAA Bill moving through the House – with bipartisan support – especially with limited days left on the calendar before they leave town for the mid-term elections,” said NASAO President and CEO Mark Kimberling. “While there are still some provisions and reforms we’re looking to work on and address in the Senate, several important NASAO priorities were adopted in this Bill, and we’re now one important step closer to sending a long-term reauthorization bill to the President for his signature this year – a feat that seemed much less probable just a few months ago.”

Some of these critical reforms include expansion of the state block grant program from 10 to 20 states, updates to the benefit cost analysis for contract towers, creation of a remote air traffic control tower pilot program, new streamlined regulations for general aviation aircraft certification, increased funding for the Essential Air Service program (EAS), and a NASAO-backed amendment to allow the usage of safe, proven state pavement specifications at GA airports for aircraft weights up to 60,000 pounds. The bill also includes several key reforms that promote the safe integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the national airspace system (NAS), including the codification of Administration’s Integration Pilot Program.

H.R.4, surprisingly, did not include the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) increases as initially reported out of Committee – which would’ve raised contract authority AIP levels up to about $4 Billion — and instead keeps annual funding for the program flat at $3.35 billion for the duration of the bill. This last-minute decision to comply with a Budget Committee request to keep the funding levels flat and in-line with overall agreed-upon spending levels for the FAA, even surprised some Members of the Committee who had previously supported bipartisan-backed AIP increases.

The bill does authorize an additional $1 billion per-year in appropriated discretionary funding – primarily focused on rural and GA airports similar to the omnibus funding — to potentially augment AIP, in lieu of top-line increases. However this would be far from certain to be funded in future years given the reliance on the annual appropriations process. Further, while the provision is well intended to make up for the lack of AIP increases, NASAO will continue to instead seek traditional AIP increases on the Senate side.

“Overall, the new discretionary funding for airports has the potential to have a really positive impact,” said NASAO Government Relations Manager John Shea. “We’re looking forward to working with the Senate on maintaining the AIP increases included in their bill and to provide stable and predictable airport infrastructure investment.”

An amendment offered by Rep. Fleischmann (R-TN) and adopted by the House would support our nation’s more than 5,000 General Aviation airports by providing a common-sense solution to reduce the cost of and construction time for critical pavement projects while maintaining the highest level of safety and quality. This amendment also has many economic benefits as states will be able to procure materials from local businesses – and support local jobs.

“With flat year-over-year funding and subsequent decreased purchasing power as well as limited access to certain material and qualified personnel, states and airport sponsors are often tasked with simply having to do more with less,” said NASAO Chairman and Nebraska DOT Aviation Division Director Ronnie Mitchell. “We commend Congressman Fleischmann for providing us with critical regulatory relief from the unnecessarily burdensome and costly federal pavement specification requirements.”

Now that the House has passed their FAA Reauthorization bill, the Senate is expected to bring its own bill to the floor so the chambers can finish a conference in time to meet lawmakers’ ambitious goal of being done before the August recess. The FAA is currently operating under the fiscal 2018 omnibus spending bill, H.R. 1625, which extended FAA funding and authority for six months through Sept. 30, 2018.

Categories: News
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