FAA Funding Bill Passes Senate; Next Stop, Joint Reconciliation Committee

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In a 93-0 vote, the Senate passed its version of a two-year FAA reauthorization bill on Monday, without user fees and applauded by GA alphabet-group advocates. The $34.5 billion provision now goes to a committee where members of the Senate and House will work to reconcile their versions. From there, it would go to the President for signature before becoming law. Jim Coyne, a former congressman and president of the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) said, "I would like to congratulate the U.S. Senate for approving a two-year FAA reauthorization bill that is void of user fees and that provides a fair jet fuel tax increase. The bill also includes several mandates for accelerated implementation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System — NextGen." The memory of Colgan Air Flight 3407, which crashed outside Buffalo killing all on board and one on the ground, is strongly invoked in the legislation. As part of the bill, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) championed increased levels of training for airline copilots — 800 hours minimum. Specific training is also mandated in multi-crew operations, weather flying, high-altitude flying, and "basic standards of cockpit professionalism and operations in part of the airline industry" — an apparent reaction to the case of an airline crew overshooting their destination because they were engaged with their personal laptop computers. The bill also mandates increased reporting requirements by the FAA in response to recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Currently, the FAA need only acknowledge it has received the NTSB's recommendations. Under the new legislation, the Secretary of Transportation must file a detailed annual report, covering several specific bullet points, on how the FAA has responded to NTSB investigative reports or intends to respond. A profound challenge to reconciling the Senate and House bills is conflicting language between the two directly related to FedEx employees' rights to form local bargaining groups represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The House bill favors the union side of the issue. Controversy over the measure could slow the progress of the reconciliation committee, but a 90-day extension of FAA funding will bridge the gap until July 3 (the current short-term funding package expires next week).