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FAA reauthorization on the horizon

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“This becomes a legacy issue for [Rep. Bill] Shuster.”

The clock is inexorably ticking towards Sept. 30, 2015, when FAA’s current authorization expires. US airlines and airports are already spending serious time preparing for next year’s FAA reauthorization debate in Congress. For those who have forgotten (many of us wish we could), the last FAA reauthorization was an embarrassing saga of epic Washington dysfunction that at its nadir featured a partial shutdown of the agency in the 2011 summer.

FAA’s authorization expired on Sept. 30, 2007 and, staggeringly, the next reauthorization wasn’t passed until February of 2012! The agency stayed afloat for more than four years via 23 temporary extensions—except for the two weeks in 2011 when it partially shut down because even a short-term extension couldn’t be agreed to by bickering lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

“I don’t think anybody wants to repeat that exercise,” Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) president and CEO Kevin Burke said last week at the ACI-NA Conference and Exhibition in Atlanta. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) “has expressed an interest in getting a clean bill and getting it done on time,” Burke said.

Shuster was not the T&I Committee chairman during the last FAA reauthorization fight and there is hope he can shepherd a bill through without the acrimony that existed during the prior reauthorization round, when then-T&I chairman John Mica (R-Florida) often raised rather than lowered the heat during the debate. “This becomes a legacy issue for Shuster,” Burke said, adding that it would be “a testament to his leadership to pass a bill in an expeditious way.”

Modernizing air traffic control, financing airport expansion, revisiting pilot qualification requirements and examining the structure of FAA are just a few of the many issues that will be part of the reauthorization debate.

Speaking at the ACI-NA conference, FAA associate administrator-airports Eduardo Angeles said, “Within the building itself there’s a lot of conversation and debate about what the reauthorization should look like … The reauthorization is an opportunity to change the future of aviation for many, many years to come.”

While it is not on the mainstream political radar right now, FAA reauthorization is consequential because, as Southwest Airlines chairman, president and CEO Gary Kelly said during a breakfast meeting in Washington DC last week, “The [federal] government is involved with every single [flight] departure in the airline industry.”

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