Familiar divisions over FAA reauthorization resurfaced in the US Congress this week as differing legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives and Senate.

With a Sept. 30 deadline looming for reauthorizing FAA, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) again proposed a bill that would remove air traffic control (ATC) management from FAA and create an independent, non-profit entity to run US ATC.

But just like last year, when Shuster introduced similar legislation, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chairman John Thune (R-South Dakota) followed up by introducing a bill that does not include an ATC spinoff proposal and would leave the current FAA structure intact.

The disparate bills set up a contentious battle on Capitol Hill this summer over FAA reauthorization. Even if Shuster can get House leaders to bring up his bill for a vote (which did not happen last year) and convince the full House to pass it, any ATC reform would stall without Senate backing.

Shuster’s bill modifies his proposal from last year in ways that are aimed at generating wider support, including creating a larger board to govern the new ATC entity, giving seats at the table to major airlines, cargo carriers, regional airlines, general aviation (GA), business aviation, air traffic controllers, airports and commercial pilots. It also would exempt GA from paying user fees.

US President Donald Trump has endorsed Shuster’s plan to remove ATC from FAA, though the president has not weighed in on the specific bill Shuster introduced this week. Shuster said there is broader backing in the House for his bill this year compared to last year, citing support from some Democrats and some backers of GA who were wary of the 2016 version.

But Thune’s bill eschews ATC reform in favor of an approach that emphasizes areas of bipartisan agreement, such as imposing criminal penalties for “reckless” unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operators and instituting new consumer protections for airline passengers, including creating a standard method for airlines to disclose ancillary fees.

The bill has already garnered support from leading Democrats, including Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida), the top Democrat on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, who called the proposed legislation “a good example of what can happen when Republicans and Democrats work toward the same goal.”

Thune said the Senate bill “focuses on enhancing safety, improving air travel for the traveling public, and reforms to help bring the future of aviation closer to reality.”

There are some similar provisions in both bills, including prohibiting airlines from removing passengers from aircraft after boarding, except for security or safety reasons—a direct response to the United Airlines passenger dragging incident.

Both the House and Senate transportation panels plan to “markup” the bills next week—lawmakers on the committees will have an opportunity to propose changes. That will begin the FAA reauthorization legislative process with the goal of both chambers of Congress passing a unified bill by Sept. 30 to send to Trump to sign into law.

Aaron Karp aaron.karp@penton.com