U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Holds Hearings on FAA Reauthorization Bill

The U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has proposed H.R. 915, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2009.  Since funding authorization for aviation programs and authorization for taxes and fees that provide revenue for the FAA expired at the end of fiscal year 2007 and revenue collections and FAA programs have been extended several times (until March 31, 2009), this bill is a priority item for the FAA. What follows is a summary of the provisions of the Reauthorization Bill.

Funding & Financing

  • Taxes on aviation users will be increased – Passenger flight segment tax increased to $3.60; International departure and arrival taxes increased to $16.10; Alaska Hawaii facilities tax increased to $8.00.
  • Provides historic funding levels for the FAA’s programs between 2009 and 2012, including $16.2 billion for AIP; $13.4 billion for Facilities and Equipment; $38.9 billion for operations; and $1.35 billion for Research, Engineering and Development.

Airports

  • Makes several modifications to the current AIP distribution formula that provide significant increases in AIP funding for smaller airports, which are particularly reliant on AIP for capital financing, as well as more AIP discretionary funding.
  • Increases Passenger Facility Charge from $4.50 to $7.00.  This provision was strongly supported by Jim Elwood, representing the American Association of Airport Executives.

ATC Modernization and NextGen

  • Provides $13.4 billion for the FAA’s Facilities and Equipment account.
  • Increases the authority and visibility of the Joint Planning and Development Office.
  • Requires the JPDO to develop a work plan that details, on a year-by-year basis, specific NextGen-related deliverables and milestones.
  • FAA wants to emphasize “infrastructure” improvements at the nations’ airports, which includes a full roll-out of NextGen.

Safety

  • Includes several safety provisions, such as authorizing additional funds for runway incursion reduction programs and the acquisition and installation of runway status lights.
  • Increases the number of aviation safety inspectors and requires safety inspections of foreign repair stations at least twice a year.
  • Directs FAA to commence a rulemaking to ensure that covered maintenance work on air carrier aircraft is performed by part 145 repair stations or part 121 air carriers.
  • Creates an independent Aviation Safety Whistleblower Investigation Office within the FAA charged with receiving safety complaints and information submitted by both FAA employees and employees of certificated entities.
  • Directs FAA to modify its “customer service initiative” to remove air carriers or other entities regulated by the FAA as “customers.”
  • Adds a two-year “post-service” cooling off period for FAA inspectors and requires principal maintenance inspectors to rotate between airline oversight offices every five years.

Small Communities

  • Increases the total amount authorized for Essential Air Services each year from $127 million to $200 million.
  • Requires 50% of over-flight fees collected in excess of $50 million be dedicated to EAS.
  • Authorizes the Secretary to enter into long-term EAS contracts that would provide more stability for participating air carriers.
  • Reduces local share of AIP projects from 10% to 5% for economically depressed communities.
  • Includes several provisions to mitigate the effects of increases in aviation fuel costs by increasing the existing $200 per passenger subsidy cap.
  • Extends the Small Community Air Service Development Program through fiscal year 2011, at the current authorized funding level of $35 million per year.

Consumer Protections

  • Includes several provisions to ensure passenger needs are met including a mandate that air carriers and airports submit emergency contingency plans and detail in their plans how they allow passengers to deplane following excessive delays.
  • DOT is required to publicize and maintain a hotline for consumer complaints, establish an Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection, expand consumer complaints investigated, and require air carriers to report diverted and canceled flight information monthly.
  • DOT Inspector General is asked to report on the causes of air carrier flight delays and cancellations.

Environmental Provisions

  • Includes several provisions related to the environment, noise mitigation and land use initiatives, including:
    • An environmental mitigation pilot program;
    • The phasing out of noisy Stage II aircraft;
    • An aircraft departure queue management pilot program;
    • Broadened AIP eligibility to include several energy saving terminal projects; and
    • Requirements for the FAA to build sustainable air traffic control facilities.
  • Allows airport operators to reinvest the proceeds from the sale of land that an airport acquired for a noise compatibility purpose, but no longer needs for that purpose, giving priority, in descending order to:
    • Reinvestment in another noise compatibility project;
    • Environmentally-related project
    • Another otherwise-eligible AIP project;
    • Transfer to another public airport for a noise compatibility project; or
    • Payment to the Trust Fund.
  • Provides authorization for the Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions and Noise (“CLEEN”) Engine and Airframe Technology partnership to develop, mature and certify CLEEN engine and airframe technology for aircraft over the next 10 years.

Labor

  • Modifies the dispute resolution process for proposed changes to the FAA personnel management system, and replaces it with a new dispute resolution process.
  • Applies the new dispute resolution process to the ongoing dispute between NATCA and the FAA. That is the changes implemented by the FAA on and after July 10, 2005, would be null and void and the parties will be governed by their last mutual agreement.
  • Amends the Railway Labor Act to clarify that employees of an “express carrier” shall only be covered by the RLA if they are employed in a position that is eligible for certification under FAA’s rules and they are actually performing that type of work for the express carrier.
  • Requires an assessment of training programs for controllers and air traffic technicians.
  • Requires that FAA include employee unions as stakeholders in the development and planning for NextGen.
  • Requires the establishment of a Task Force on Air Traffic Control Facility Conditions to determine whether employees are exposed to dangerous environmental conditions in their work place.
  • Requires the Secretary to establish within the FAA a working group to develop criteria and make recommendations for the realignment and consolidation of services and facilities.

Aviation Insurance

  • Extends requirement until September 30, 2012, that the FAA provide U.S. airlines’ aviation insurance from the first dollar of loss at capped premium rates, after which the requirement becomes discretionary until September 30, 2019.
  • After December 31, 2019, such insurance must be provided instead by airline industry-sponsored risk-sharing arrangement approved by the Secretary.

Next Article: Summary of Comments regarding Safety Provisions.

Written Testimonies:

Panel 1:

  • The Honorable Mike Thompson M.C., California 1st District (no written testimony provided)

Panel 2:

Panel 3:

Panel 4:

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