ATW Editor's Blog

“Finally” is all that can be said about House FAA reauthorization bill

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In the end, there’s not a whole lot you can say about the US House FAA reauthorization bill other than it’s done.

While the US Senate and full Congress still need to vote, FAA reauthorization now seems likely to be a formality. The House bill was overwhelmingly approved by lawmakers on both sides of the House, setting the path for FAA reauthorization through September 2023.

And that’s the “big” part of today’s deal.  Finally, finally, FAA can operate on a long-term financial basis after three years of hopping between temporary extensions that frequently went to the wire. The last full FAA reauthorization expired Sept. 30, 2015.

While lawmakers understandably are celebrating today’s positive action, there should still be shame that an agency as important as FAA has been dragged through this political charade. FAA is an agency vital to America’s commercial air transport system, and therefore to the US economy, as well as to the global air safety system.

And, of course, the golden opportunity to restructure and modernize the US air traffic control system was missed. The ability to plan longer term is indeed a huge step forward for FAA efficiency, but ATC reform could have done so much more for innovative modernization that would ensure the US airspace system does not de-accelerate to gridlock.

Rep. Bill Shuster, chairman of the House transport committee, essentially gave up on ATC reform, which he championed for years, after being out-campaigned by reform opponents and getting only half-hearted support from President Trump (who talked up infrastructure investment early in his presidency, but has not followed up). Shuster will retire at the end of 2018.

So the result is a bill sufficiently vanilla that it neither offends nor delights lawmakers on either side and they could give it bipartisan support, which is a noteworthy event in US Congress these days.

Similarly, the aviation industry gives a collective sigh of relief. Finally, FAA reauthorization is in sight.

But after three years, FAA is merely being handed the tools it needs to do its job and, for the most part, the same way it has done the job for decades. America could have achieved so much more.

Karen Walker karen.walker@informa.com

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