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FAA Reauthorization - June 2008

by Charlie Spence, Aviation Writer and IFA Member

A long-term reauthorization bill for the Federal Aviation Administration has been going through more turbulence than a Piper Cub caught in a windstorm as Congress squabbles over everything from user fees on general aviation to inclusion of non-aviation issues and to a threatened Presidential veto.

The FAA has been operating under temporary extensions since last September. A full extension bill, which did not include user fees on general aviation, passed the House last September, but has been bogged down in the Senate.

Senate aviation subcommittee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va) had been holding out for user fees, but compromised his position in order to get a long-term bill passed. However, in April when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) tried to bring the bill to the floor with a cloture vote to limit discussion, his efforts were thwarted, primarily because the bill contained so many non-aviation sections, including taxes not related to aviation. One Senator said the package to be voted on was like "an omnibus tax and special interest package."

Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill), chairman of the aviation subcommittee in the House, expressed disappointment at the Senate's failure to move after a compromise had been reached. Following the failure to bring the Senate bill to a vote, talks began regarding another extension bill, with some observers believing the FAA could be kept on a temporary funding basis into next year after a new president is in office.

The scheduled airlines, through their lobbying group the Air Transport Association, pounced on the legislative delay to push their position of user fees on general aviation. The ATA used the sporting event of the Kentucky Derby to cite the need for user fees by saying posh corporate jets were clogging the skies over Kentucky. This claim was made despite the fact that airports in Louisville saw most corporate jets arrive two to three days before the derby, not "clogging the skies." FAA said there were only 19 slight delays. Only 6 airline flights were delayed. Others were air taxi and general aviation flights.

As the summer travel months come on, with added travel and airlines continuing over scheduling at peak periods, increased flight delays are expected. Many observers believed this would cause the Senate to move on the reauthorization bill in order to avoid criticism that could be leveled for keeping the FAA on temporary funding. This gave optimism that the Senate might move on a long-term bill before breaking for the summer and political conventions.

The House bill does not have user fees and the Senate version, agreed to but not voted on, is similar, having no user fees for general aviation but a higher jet fuel tax and a slight increase in av-gas to offset inflation.

If, when and how the legislation is passed to reauthorize the FAA, experts believe it will not include user fees for general aviation. Until the legislation is passed and signed, the one thing in Washington that is certain is uncertainty.

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