Washington Examiner

Bipartisan FAA bill soars into action

The Federal Aviation‌ Administration (FAA) funding was renewed by Congress and the White House, expanding funding and introducing policy changes. The reauthorization allocates $105 billion over four years, enhancing airport infrastructure. Significant shifts include mandatory flight refunds and advancements in air traffic control technology. The ​bill addresses industry challenges and aims to improve aviation safety and efficiency.

On the day that Federal Aviation Administration funding was set to expire, Congress and the White House reauthorized it — and then some.

“It’s a massive porkfest,” Gary Leff, author of the influential View from the Wing website, described the bill to the Washington Examiner. As one example, Leff noted that Congress “more than doubled Essential Air Service subsidies — a program that was supposed to be temporary and end in 1988. They liberalized restrictions on how much airports close to other airports can receive, too.”

Marc Scribner, transportation policy analyst for the Reason Foundation, said the FAA reauthorization “largely perpetuates the status quo, which isn’t particularly surprising given the COVID-19 chaos” that the industry is still recovering from.

If that is so, then the status quo has gotten more expensive. The 2018 FAA reauthorization gave the green light to almost $97 billion in spending over a five-year period, or $19.4 billion a year, according to a breakdown by the Eno Center for Transportation. The new reauthorization is for $105 billion over four years, at $26.2 billion a year, with almost $20 billion earmarked for airport infrastructure projects.

FAA reauthorizations don’t happen very often. Before the 2018 bill, the previous reauthorization was in 2012. These larger bills affect more than simply funding levels for air transportation and the excise taxes on tickets and cargo that get those funds in the door.

Because of the contentious nature of some of the proposed changes, short-term resolutions are often necessary. Short-term bills extended the previous regime from last September to this May 16, when President Joe Biden signed the long-term reauthorization into law.

Refunds, remote control, and more recording

This year’s bill saw two significant shifts in policy that may affect travelers and one that could boost safety.

One of the most significant changes is a new policy forcing the airlines to refund delayed or canceled flights, rather than rebooking.

“Ultimately, on the specific issue of automatic airline refunds, the airline lobby lost. And I can assure you that doesn’t happen very often,” said William J. McGee, senior fellow for aviation and travel at the American Economic Liberties Project. He called it a bipartisan effort, praising Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) along with Massachusetts’s two Democratic senators and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) for “introducing the revised language to fix the awful section on refunds.”

Critics charge that this new requirement could lead to some passengers being stranded when a flight is significantly delayed or canceled. McGee chalks that up largely to industry propaganda.

“The airline industry put a ton of money and energy into lobbying for the ability to keep other people’s money under a system that puts the burden on consumers to actively seek refunds,” he told the Washington Examiner. “The automatic feature … will help ensure passengers get to keep the millions of dollars that are rightfully theirs.”

Another big policy shift is in air traffic control. Previously, by law this had to happen from large overlook towers at airports. No more.

“The best policy reform was on remote and digital air traffic control towers, which can improve safety and reduce costs,” Scribner told the Washington Examiner. “Like with many air traffic management technologies and practices, the FAA badly lags its overseas counterparts. While it failed to address the biggest long-term problems facing the agency and civil aviation, this FAA reauthorization may at least finally push the FAA into the 21st century on control tower technology.”

The bill lengthens the time that cockpit voice recorders must go before they begin overwriting from a few hours to 25 hours. Leff said this is significant because “in several recent incidents, voice recorders were written over before investigators could access them.”

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters union representing the pilots of cargo airline Atlas Air had objected to the proposal in a comment to the FAA.

“We are strongly against the imposition of arbitrary and unnecessary new surveillance measures that would serve more as an invasion on worker privacy than it would serve to lower aviation safety risks in any meaningful way,” the Teamsters wrote in December.

Reagan National woes

One of the biggest missed opportunities in the bill was right in Congress’s own backyard at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Leff said.

The Perimeter rule, which is imposed by Congress on Reagan, limits the length of most flights to and from the airport to 1,250 miles. Congress can carve out exemptions to these limits with so-called beyond-perimeter slots for flights. It did this in 2012 by opening up eight new slots to or from Reagan per day. This bill allowed 10 additional longer to and from flights per day, but it was stingy about what airlines could fly those routes.

Leff said the language of the bill “was written as a giveaway to big airlines. The language in the bill forbids DOT from even awarding any to new entrants at the airport and appears to even preclude the two smallest carriers from accessing any.” The only smaller airline even in the running is Alaska Airlines.

“Interestingly the bill makes it easier for private jets like Elon Musk’s to avoid public tracking,” he added.

Ted Cruz takes the lead

The White House’s initial statement on the bill’s signing closed with, “Thank you to Representatives Graves and Larsen, Senators Cantwell and Cruz, and many others for their leadership.”

In one sense, that was expected boilerplate. Reps. Sam Graves (R-MO) and Rick Larsen (D-WA) are chairman and ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) are their counterparts in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

In another sense, many observers were surprised to see Cruz, who famously pushed for a government shutdown to protest Obamacare, taking a leading role in striking a bipartisan deal.

Watchers of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee were less surprised. Since Cruz became ranking member there, he has worked to forge relationships across the political aisle. Last year, when Biden’s nominee for FAA head, Denver International Airport CEO Phil Washington, bowed out, this was largely Cruz’s doing.


Cruz taking the lead in the bipartisan FAA authorization could also signal greater ambition on his part. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has announced he will no longer be the leader of the Senate Republicans in the next Congress, creating a leadership vacuum.

Cruz’s robust push for the legislation’s passage does not mean he got everything he wanted, however. Leff quipped that the best thing about the FAA reauthorization “is that Cruz’s provision to provide private screening and escorts to Members of Congress, Cabinet secretaries, and federal judges was removed from the bill.”

Jeremy Lott is a contributor for the Washington Examiner magazine.

Read More From Original Article Here: Bipartisan FAA reauthorization bill takes flight

" Conservative News Daily does not always share or support the views and opinions expressed here; they are just those of the writer."

Related Articles

Sponsored Content
Back to top button
News Journalist
Hello, I am Adam, how can I help you?

Adblock Detected

Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker