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CONGRESS PASSES FAA FUNDING EXTENSION

AOPA

Both the House and Senate have passed a six-month FAA funding extension. The legislation, which does not contain language to remove air traffic control from the FAA, heads to President Donald Trump for his signature just days before the Sept. 30 funding deadline.

The U.S. Capitol Dome is home to the U.S. Congress and its House and Senate governing bodies, two of the many government agencies that have influence over general aviation. iStock photo.

The U.S. Capitol Dome is home to the U.S. Congress and its House and Senate governing bodies, two of the many government agencies that have influence over general aviation. iStock photo.

The extension originally passed by the House contained flood insurance provisions, which were removed by the Senate over bipartisan opposition. The Senate amended the bill and sent it back to the House, where it also passed.

“We applaud the House and Senate for passing this needed legislation,” said AOPA President and CEO Mark Baker.

Supporters of so-called ATC privatization plan another push for a House vote on the legislation in October.

“AOPA will continue mobilizing pilots and working with elected officials to ensure we don’t give away our skies to the airlines and instead focus on continuing efforts to modernize air traffic control,” Baker said.

House Dems Ask IG To Investigate ATC Lobbying Efforts

Kerry Lynch – AIN Online

Democratic leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives are seeking an investigation into whether certain U.S.Department of Transportation (DOT) officials violated lobbying laws in a push for support of a proposal to carve the air traffic control organization out of the FAA. Reps. Pete DeFazio (D-Oregon), the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, Nita Lowey (D-New York), the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, and David Price (D-North Carolina), the ranking member of the transportation appropriations subcommittee, yesterday formally asked the DOT Inspector General (IG) to investigate whether political DOT appointees “violated federal law, including the Anti-Lobbying Act.”

In an August 2 letter to DOT IG Calvin Scovel, the lawmakers noted language in the Anti-Lobbying Act that prohibits use of government funds for means “designed to influence in any manner a member of Congress, a jurisdiction or any official of any government to favor, adopt or oppose, by vote or otherwise, any legislation.”

But, the lawmakers added, “It has come to our attention that at least four DOT political appointees have contacted members of Congress, nonfederal stakeholders such as aviation association representatives and airport sponsors or both to gain support for H.R.2997, the 21st Century AIRR Act, which includes a controversial plan to privatize our nation’s ATC system.”

They cited emails, written materials and telephone calls made in this effort, pointing to one email from a DOTofficial that said “…with each of its major concerns addressed in the AIRR Act, the general aviation community has no substantive basis to oppose freeing America’s air traffic control system from an unwieldy agency and unpredictable funding.”

They also pointed to written materials, a DOT website and official social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter “with the unambiguous intent of encouraging members of the public to support ATC privatization…[and] even when viewed in the light most favorable, these e-mails, telephone calls and other activities are highly irregular, at best.”

The letter did not specify the DOT officials involved, but Chris Brown, who recently joined the FAA as assistant administrator of government and industry affairs, sent an email recently, saying, “It’s time for the U.S. to join most of the industrialized world and separate its ATC system from the agency that also provides safety oversight. With major benefits and protections included in the AIRR Act, the general aviation community is best served by an air traffic control system operated by a separate entity governed by system users rather than bureaucrats in Washington.” Brown previously served as staff director for the House aviation subcommittee and vice president for legislative and regulatory policy at Airlines for America,

DOT spokesperson responded to the Democrats’ allegations, saying, “The department has shared factual information in support of the president’s air traffic control reform initiative with members of Congress and other stakeholders in response to questions and issues that have frequently come up. This has been done in compliance with the Anti-Lobbying Act.” The FAA deferred response to DOT.

The push by FAA/DOT officials has marked a departure from the neutral stance the DOT and FAA had taken in recent years on the issue. But it also comes as the White House has wholly embraced the concept of a user-funded independent ATC. In fact, President Donald Trump so strongly endorses the concept that he held a press conference in the White House to roll out his own proposal.

The request for the investigation, which comes from the chief opponents to the ATC proposal in the House, ratchets up what has already become a contentious, hard fought battle on Capitol Hill on the ATC issue. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee leaders have worked hard to secure each vote, while opponents continue to press upon members to reinforce opposition. Both Democrats and House and Senate appropriators on both sides of the aisle have opposed the concept.

Rep, Sam Graves (R-Missouri), the co-chairman of the House General Aviation Caucus, has strongly backed the concept, saying protections that have been added secured his support. But fellow caucus members have been resistant, including Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), who wrote in his weekly column last week: “The FAA has worked well for our nation for many years. If it’s not broke, then don’t try to fix it.”

Bill to extend FAA reauthorization introduced in House, Senate takes up reauthorization

General Aviation News

A bill has been introduced in the House to extend the authorization of the FAA through July 15.

Meanwhile, the Senate has unveiled its own plan for the agency’s reauthorization.

In the House, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) introduced the bill to extend the FAA’s authorization. The legislation also extends key revenue provisions through March 31, 2017.

Rep. Bill Shuster

Rep. Bill Shuster

“Last month, the Transportation Committee approved the long-term Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act, which represents a profound, transformational reform of our aviation system and a departure from the status quo,” Shuster said. “Yesterday, the Senate introduced its own FAA legislation, and I look forward to working with them to produce a final bill. In the meantime, while both House and Senate continue efforts to move each bill forward, we need to pass an extension to ensure that the FAA and the federal aviation programs remain fully funded and functional.”

“By extending key revenue provisions, we ensure the Airport and Airway Trust Fund continues to serve American travelers,” Brady said.

The original bill included a controversial provision to privatize the Air Traffic Control function of the FAA. After much outcry from the GA community, that provision was pulled from the legislation.

The latest bill, H.R. 4721, the Airport and Airway Extension Act of 2016, is a clean extension of FAA programs and the Airport and Airway Trust Fund collection authority.

Without an extension, the authority to collect aviation taxes will lapse, and the Airport and Airway Trust Fund will be deprived of more than $30 million a day — funding needed for air traffic control, airport development, and other aviation programs.

In addition, airports will be unable to receive grant money that’s already been awarded to them, putting dozens of construction projects across the country at risk of delay, cost overrun, or cancellation. H.R. 4721 avoids these unnecessary consequences as Congress works to finalize a long-term aviation bill, officials noted.

Meanwhile, in the Senate Commerce Committee has unveiled its own version of FAA reauthorization legislation. Discussion on the bill — known as mark up — is slated for March 16.

The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2016 (S. 2658) would authorize FAA funding through September 2017.

According to officials with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the bill contains third class medical reform language that passed the Senate in December but does not include user fees for general aviation.

In addition, the legislation would authorize annual increases in Airport Improvement Program funding, streamline certification for GA aircraft, support a transition to unleaded aviation fuel, and make it easier to install modern safety equipment in legacy aircraft.

Mark Baker with his Piper Super Cub.

Mark Baker with his Piper Super Cub.

“This bill includes meaningful reforms that the general aviation community wants and needs — especially changes to the third class medical and the aircraft certification process,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “We hope the Senate will move quickly to pass this legislation, which could save general aviation pilots hundreds of millions of dollars, improve general aviation safety, and strengthen the GA industry.”

The FAA’s current authorization expires March 31. Both the House and the Senate have indicated they will approve another short-term extension ahead of the deadline, giving Congress time to complete negotiations on a reauthorization bill.