‘Clean’ FAA Extension Runs into New EAS Restrictions

As Centerlines Weekly Update goes to press, the House of Representatives is debating the 21st extension of the FAA’s operating authority, H.R. 2553. The current operating authority for the FAA expires at midnight on Friday.

The House bill would extend the operating authority through September 16. The extension, however, is not “clean” as it includes language making changes to the Essential Air Service program. House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) added a provision that the Senate adopted changing the eligibility for EAS participation from being 70 miles or further from a small or medium hub to 90 miles.  He also added a provision that would limit the subsidy per passenger to $1,000.

Today, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Rockefeller (D-W.V.), Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) introduced a clean FAA extension bill, S.1387, which provides operating authority for the FAA through Sept. 16. It is clear that ACI-NA’s message from airports around the country was heard in the Senate as their bill also provides much needed AIP contract authority through the end of Fiscal Year 2011. 

Rockefeller’s initial comment on the House extension was that “with this latest FAA extension, the House has demonstrated that it is not serious about getting a comprehensive bill done. The Senate will not consider passing an FAA extension with policy riders that hurt small communities across the country. By sending over a bill that can’t pass the Senate, we risk shutting down our nation’s aviation system. I urge the House to reconsider this plan and get back to work on a bill that makes our aviation system safer, more efficient, protects our small airports, and enables economic growth and job creation.”

“Further efforts to add policy components to FAA extensions that have not been negotiated with the Senate will likely shut the FAA down,” Rockefeller said in a press release.

In a letter to Mica, Rockefeller wrote, “You need to think about this very, very carefully.  Any consequences resulting from such an action will fall squarely on your shoulders.”

This morning the Office of Management and Budget issued a Statement of Administration Policy on the House extension which states “The Administration strongly supports passage of a clean extension of Federal Aviation Administration programs, as the Congress has done 20 times without controversy, in order to allow bipartisan, bicameral negotiations to continue on a full reauthorization.

“H.R. 2553includes controversial provisions that, because they have not been negotiated, needlessly threaten critical FAA programs and jeopardize thousands of public and private sector jobs.  Without timely passage of a clean extension, all of FAA’s capital accounts (Grants-in-Aid for Airports, Facilities and Equipment, and Research, Engineering, and Development) would be shut down, and approximately 4,000 employees would be furloughed.  FAA’s ability to award new grants, including infrastructure upgrades at airports across the country, as well as to move forward with vital testing and implementation of the Next Generation air traffic control system, would come to a stop.”

Despite efforts to find a bipartisan compromise, Mica last week announced a plan to cut funds for 10 communities that benefit from Essential Air Service as retaliation for the Senate’s refusal to accept language on the National Mediation Board that would adversely affect workers’ rights. 

Rockefeller has long championed the EAS program, which provides a federal subsidy for air carriers to operate out of mostly rural areas.  Without this important program, many communities nationwide would not have air service.  EAS supports air service to more than 100 communities across the country.

Contact ACI-NA’s Jane Calderwood for more information.