By Jane Calderwood
The U.S. House of Representatives began debating H.R. 658, the FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act, this afternoon. Listening to the debate, it is clear there is a major difference of opinion on the impact the bill will have on the aviation industry, and one’s interpretation clearly depends on which side of the aisle the member sits. Republicans and Democrats are drawing very different pictures of what the bill can/will do for/to the aviation industry.
Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) noted the bill was long past due given that the last FAA bill was signed into law in 2003, and that the agency was now operating under the 18th extension of its operating authority. In his opening remarks, the chairman made reference to difficult fiscal situation facing the country by stating that at a time when Congress needs to cut back on spending, the bill requires the FAA to “do more with less.” Aviation Subcommittee Chair Tom Petri (R-Wis.) expressed his support for moving forward with the bill in order to provide operating stability to the FAA.
Committee Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) used his opening remarks to highlight the negative impact the bill’s provision sun setting the Essential Air Service will have on rural communities across the country, and lamented that the bill would not only have a negative impact on the FAA’s ability to do its job but that it would cost jobs as well. “The bill cuts FAA funding by billions of dollars, back to 2008 levels. You cannot cut funding so dramatically without destroying tens of thousands of jobs: Federal jobs, state jobs, local jobs, public and private sector jobs. In addition to costing jobs, the bill’s funding cuts would cause delays to air traffic control modernization – meaning more delayed flights – a reduction of FAA’s safety workforce and delays to FAA safety rules.”
Aviation Subcommittee Ranking Member Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), responded to Mica’s comments regarding the FAA doing more with less by stating that the FAA “will not do more with less they will be forced to do less with less.” Costello also referenced Mica’s comment that the bill specifically directs the FAA to prioritize and protect safety activities. Costello remarked that while it sounds good “all the evidence suggests that it just can’t be done.”
General debate is scheduled to be completed Thursday afternoon. The House will then begin consideration of the 33 amendments.