Now for the first time since 2007, Congressional negotiators in the House and Senate have reached a compromise deal to fund the FAA for the next four years.
The bill authorizes $63 billion for the FAA through the 2015 budget year. It includes compromises on several difficult issues that divided lawmakers along party lines and by region, including air service subsidies for rural communities, safety regulation of cargo shipments of lithium batteries, and rules governing the formation of airline and railroad unions.The key issues that were resolved by the package include new limitations on the Essential Air Service, which provides service to rural communities that have few flight alternatives; funding the NextGen air traffic control system modernization at a cost of $1 billion for each year (though it isn't above the amount spent annually in each of the past two years); changes to union rules; and adopting international standards on shipment of lithium batteries even as the FAA and air safety groups had called for more stringent measures.
The last details of the agreement were hammered out behind closed doors over the past week. Negotiators met Tuesday afternoon to congratulate each other on reaching what they said was a major victory, and to receive a copy of the final bill.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, told lawmakers involved in the negotiations he wanted them to sign the agreement by the end of the day. Final passage of the bill by the House and Senate is expected sometime in the next two weeks.
The FAA's long-term operating authority expired in 2007. The agency has continued to limp along under a series of 23 short-term extensions, but its ability to commit to decisions on major acquisition programs that extend over many years, like air traffic modernization, was hindered by the uncertainty over how much it could spend and by a lack of direction from Congress.