There have been a few new developments in the latest standoff over the FAA reauthorization bill. There is still no sign of compromise from either the House or Senate on the last remaining differences, but that has not prevented tactical maneuvering by both sides.
There are apparently now two major unresolved issues – loosening the perimeter rule at Washington National Airport, and raising the cap on passenger facility charges (PFCs). After much negotiation, the House and Senate seem to have reached impasse on these provisions.
However, aviation leaders in the Senate have signaled they may try and pass the bill anyway, with their latest positions on the perimeter rule and PFCs. Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) said on Tuesday that he is hoping to get a floor vote this week, and he believes the bill is ready. This would then put the ball in House lawmakers’ court – with only a few weeks left until the latest FAA extension expires, they could either accept the Senate position or reject it and send their version of the bill back to the Senate and keep the game of legislative ping-pong rolling.
On Wednesday night, Republicans on the Commerce Committee released an update showing where the bill stands at present, and said it should be passed even without full agreement with the House (a leaked document from Hill staffers, discussed in this earlier blog, is also very interesting).
The House is very unlikely to cave on the two remaining issues. But after painting the Senate as the main obstacle for the past several months, the House won’t want to be backed into a corner. There is speculation that the House is considering passing another FAA extension – this time until the end of September – to keep the pressure on the Senate to come up with a negotiated solution.
Neither strategy is locked in right now, and there is still time – although not very much – for a compromise to come together. But until this happens, the battle of wills between the House and Senate will continue.
Here is the update from the Commerce Committee Republicans – it is prefaced with a note that “It is expected Senator Reid may seek to turn to this bill in the next day or two.”
The Senate passed its FAA Reauthorization bill on March 22, 2010, by an overwhelming vote of 93:0. During the past four months, very difficult negotiations between the Senate and the House have been ongoing to reach a final resolution and allow final passage of the measure. Although the Senate negotiators have not reached a final agreement with its House counterparts, it is now necessary to move forward and to vote to send a reasonable compromise proposal to the House.
KEY PROVISIONS OF THE SENATE COMPROMISE
Air Traffic Control Modernization
· Improves federal oversight and accelerates implementation of NextGen air traffic control initiative.
· FAA’s NextGen initiative will fundamentally transform air traffic control (ATC) from a ground-based radar system to a satellite-based system that uses Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation and surveillance, digital communications, and more accurate weather services. It is necessary to accommodate future air traffic growth and to better coordinate with foreign ATC systems, many of which have already been upgraded.
· Takes steps to ensure “one level of safety” exists in commercial aircraft operations including direction that all carriers adopt additional safety oversight programs and promotes cooperation among carriers to share best practices and other critical safety information, especially between mainline and regional partners.
· Requires enhanced safety oversight of foreign repair stations in accordance with international agreements.
Airline Service and Small Community Air Service
· Requires air carriers to develop contingency plans to address situations in which the departure of a flight is substantially delayed (over 3 hours) while passengers are confined to an aircraft, allowing passengers to deplane the aircraft and providing access to food and water.
· Improves disclosure of flight information when tickets are purchased and ancillary fees.
· Proposes a number of improvements to the Essential Air Service (EAS) to allow communities greater flexibility in attracting desired air service.
· In an effort to ease some of the restrictions placed on air carriers that in turn limit travel options for passengers outside the perimeter (1,250 miles) of Washington Reagan National Airport (DCA). The Senate Compromise:
- Adds 5 new roundtrip flights beyond the perimeter for limited incumbent/new entrant carriers;
- Allows for the conversion of 16 roundtrip flights (32 slot exemptions) from large hub airports inside the perimeter to any airport outside the perimeter, phased in over 2-years (8 roundtrip flights in 2010 and 8 roundtrip flights in 2011). Number of conversions allowed per carrier would be based on the each carrier’s proportional share of existing slots at DCA. Prohibits the use of wide body aircraft for converted flights.
- Allows modest DOT role, including periodic review to determine network, travel options, and other benefits and impacts resulting from slot conversions. DOT may only disapprove of the conversion exemptions collectively (not carrier by carrier), on a one-time basis, if the Secretary finds such conversions would not enhance travel options, would diminish service to small communities, would negatively impact competition, and would not be not in the public interest.
Passenger Facility Charge (PFC)
· The House bill included an increase to the maximum allowable PFC from $4.50 to $7.00 per flight segment. The Senate compromise proposes allowing a $1.00 PFC increase, maximum PFC to $5.50 per takeoff.
· Airports use these fees to fund FAA-approved projects that enhance safety, security, or capacity; reduce noise; or increase air carrier competition.
· PFCs are local fees in lieu of taxes dedicated to capital projects needed at local airports. Unlike a federal tax, only users pay PFCs. PFCs are not collected by the federal government, not spent by the federal government and not deposited into the federal treasury. Decisions on whether to impose a PFC are determined locally.
The Senate compromise does not include the House provision to redefine the term “express company” so it falls out of the Railway Labor Act definition and is re-designated under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). It is expected Senator Reid will propose to Senator McConnell some form of a “test vote” on the provision.